With a sweep of Wednesday’s doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Nationals could accomplish a number of things: pad their National League East lead over the Atlanta Braves, snap a three-game losing streak and, more importantly, claim the first playoff berth for a Washington baseball team since 1933. The latter is a milestone achievement, one that may have seemed impossible given all that has transpired in Washington in that time, from losing games to losing teams to other cities.
Many that have watched this Nationals season have witnessed a young team develop, one that has overcome seemingly season-changing injuries to major contributors and adapted to this completely new role of front runner much of the season. Even with one magical regular season so far, the expectations have slowly started to change. It’s no longer claiming a playoff berth that’s important, but the division title, and beyond. And, given this season’s quirky and new playoff format that added a wild card team, just earning the first playoff berth in nearly 80 years isn’t enough.
“That’s not a big moment,” Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said last week. “It’s a nice moment, but it’s not a big moment.”
The Nationals, with a tough remaining schedule and only a little room for error, hold a 5 1/2 game lead over the Braves in the division standings with 16 games left to play. The Nationals benefited Tuesday night from the Miami Marlins, a team that played them tough all season long. The Marlins blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning against the Braves only to nab a 4-3 victory in 10 innings, shaving another number off the Nationals’ magic number to clinch the division and dropping it to 10.
The chance to claim the division title is still, at least, days away, but the Nationals have moved long past a three-game sweep at the hands of the Braves this weekend. Their pennant hopes aren’t close to being dashed, instead they carry themselves with confidence.
“Not like we got shellacked,” Johnson said of the Braves series. “A couple of my guys have been under the weather. I like where we’re at. I’m not going to want to change positions with them. We have our own destiny in our own hands. We’ve been pretty consistent, pretty resilient all year.
“I think definitely the Braves needed it more than we needed it. There might have been more emphasis on their side. We put our best foot forward every day. And they beat us in those three battles. That’s history. I’m not worried about that.”
FROM TODAY’S POST
Playoff scheduling quirk could put the Nationals at a disadvantage, writes Adam Kilgore.
Former Expos players and personnel have a unique view of the Nationals’ rise, writes Barry Svrluga.
Following sweep, the Nationals gets good injury news, and keep their confidence level up, writes Thomas Boswell.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
Nats’ magic number to win the division: 10
To clinch a wild card: 3
Current NL matchups
Nationals vs. Braves/Cardinals*
Reds vs. Giants
*The Braves lead the Cardinals by 6 1/2 games. The Cardinals lead the Dodgers by 1 1/2 games, the Brewers by 2 1/2, the Pirates by 3 1/2 games and the Phillies by four games.