Spoiling the party

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Jim Riggleman doesn't like the term "spoiler" and neither do I.

I remember one season as a kid opening up the St. Louis newspaper, and reading the headline "Cards Could Be Spoilers." My boyhood team was out of the pennant race and I wasn't happy that they were relegated (did I know that word at that age?) to trying to beat hated rivals to keep them out of the World Series (before playoffs).

While the manager and the TV broadcaster don't like the word, it doesn't mean it's not a noble pursuit to win as many games as the Nationals can and damage the Braves and Phillies as much as possible down the stretch.

Part of that damage has already been done.

The Nats' series win at Atlanta this week was an example of how a team that most headlines identify as "lowly" can seriously hurt a team that's a contender - and it happened on their home field, where they've won more games than any other major league team this year. The Braves were an amazing 51-21 at Turner Field going in to the series and the Nats, after being shut out by Derek Lowe in game one, turned the tables in game two behind Livan Hernandez and the untouchable bullpen and won game three with Justin Maxwell getting his third career grand slam to back John Lannan's eighth win.

It was a loud and happy charter flight to Philadelphia and we all enjoyed a day off with 16 games to go and a chance to play the Phillies six more times and the Braves three more times.

Now, about those Phillies...

They have dominated the Nationals in recent years, winning 15 out of 18 last year, but "just" 7 of 12 this season. Citizens Bank Park is a tough park for visiting teams, from the Phils' bats to Halladay-Hamels-Oswalt-Lidge, their rabid fans, and the cozy confines of a hitters' park.

The Nats try their luck (and guts) here this weekend, then host the resurgent Astros next week at home for four and the Braves and Phillies again. If Washington brings its "A game," damage can be done and the Nats can finish the season on a high note.

None of us are happy with just 62 wins right now, but some key ones down the stretch against clubs trying to play in October would be a good growing experience for 2011.