Returning home after yet another disappointing road trip, it is now or never for the Washington Nationals. Though they may be out of the divisional race (12.5 games behind the Braves), the Nationals are still within striking distance of the Cincinnati Reds in the wild card race (6.5 games behind).
A few weeks ago this series was marked on the calendars of many due to its perceived impact on the NL East race. Now, however, it looks like the Braves’ lead has ballooned to a point where the Nationals will not be able to catch them. Still, this 3 game set will prove vital towards the Nationals hopes of grabbing the second wild card spot come the end of September.
Winning the series this week against the Braves may be more important from a mental standpoint than it is in the actual standings. At this point in the year every game is important. By winning this series, the Nationals could gain a level of confidence that has not yet been reached during this season. At the moment, the Nationals have no reason to believe they are capable of winning series over quality teams consistently.
In April, Atlanta swept Washington at Nationals Park, in July, the Dodgers swept the Nationals and the Pirates took 3 out of 4 at Nationals Park. It seems like the Nationals are long over due for a series win over a division leader and that time must be now. By beating the Braves, the Washington players can prove to themselves that they have the ability to beat the league’s best, and they will need that feeling to carry over for the rest of the season.
For the first time all year, these two teams will play each other when both are at full strength. Atlanta is missing ace Tim Hudson, but he is out for the year with a broken ankle. Also, both teams have their three most dependable starters on the mound for each game. Atlanta will throw Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, and Kris Medlan. Washington will counter with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann. There will be no excuses, or no missing pieces as both teams are facing a “your best vs. our best” situation.
The Washington Nationals officially have their backs up against the wall. At 6.5 games back in the wild card and 3 games below .500, there is no doubt that the Nationals must get extremely hot immediately if they have any hopes of making the 2013 Postseason. There still is hope however as the Nationals roster contains a great deal of talent and has the potential to win a lot of games. Unfortunately for the Nationals, they have put themselves in a position in which these wins must come immediately. Their journey will start with a difficult but familiar foe: the Atlanta Braves.