To Manager Davey Johnson, the biggest difference between last season and this year is the Nationals’ performance against the Atlanta Braves. Last season, the Nationals went 10-8 against the Braves and outscored them 84-69. This season, the Nationals have gone 4-12 against their fiercest National League East rival and were outscored 63-37. Imagine how different the Nationals’ playoffs chances would be had they at least split the season series so far.

“We played them a lot of close games, but we didn’t hold our own with ’em,” Johnson said. “And we need to at least send a message to them these next three days that we’re better than them.”

The Braves come to Washington with plenty at stake. With a record of 89-60, the Braves could clinch the NL East title with two wins over the Nationals. In a season of disappointment for the Nationals, watching the Braves claim the NL East and celebrate on their home field would add insult to injury and perhaps be the lowest point of the year.

“You never want to see that,” center fielder Denard Span said. “I hate seeing any type of celebration, especially on our field. I’ve seen that a couple times in my career, see teams jump up and down, and that’s something that we definitely don’t want to have that here. Hopefully we can take care of business and have them celebrate somewhere else.”

The Nationals need every possible win they can get to keep their slim playoffs odds alive. They trail the Cincinnati Reds by 4 1/2 games, or four in the loss column, with 13 games to play. The series against the Braves isn’t simply important to preserve the Nationals’ pride, but to keep them in contention. While the Nationals haven’t been their best against the Braves, Johnson always believed in his team’s ability.

“I always believed we’re better than them,” he said.


Wilson Ramos catches 23rd straight game and powers Nationals to 11-2 win over the Phillies.


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Wilson Ramos catching 23rd consecutive game, longest run in MLB this season

The disputed called strike three on Wilson Ramos