Nationals begin long homestand with two big road trips waiting at end of season

It's not the only MLB rankings out there, but it's always interesting to see what others think of the Nationals.

Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports has the Nationals at No. 5 on his latest team rankings. The first three teams are American League squads in Oakland, the L.A. Angels and the Orioles. The Dodgers are in fourth place.

The next closest National League club is the Brewers at No. 7.

* The Nationals looked like a machine this week in New York. Each game featured the power of the lineup mixed with solid starting pitching and a bend-but-don't-break bullpen. Bryce Harper got his power stroke back in New York. Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche also cranked them. Michael Taylor makes a big splash in his major league debut.

strasburg sunset throwing sidebar.jpgAlso important was the resurgent start for Stephen Strasburg who allowed just three hits in his ninth win of the season on Thursday night. With his next victory, he'll hit double figures in wins in a season for the second time in the past three campaigns. His high water mark was 15 in 2012. If he had not been shutdown that season, he would have had a good chance for at least 18 victories.

* This weekend series has a tournament semifinal feel to it. Beginning with the sweep of the Mets this week, the Nationals advanced to the next round in a home series against the Pirates. Pittsburgh is playing solid ball themselves as they look to catch the Brewers or grab one of the NL Wild Card spots.

The Nationals are in the midst of 10-games at home against Pittsburgh, Arizona and the Giants. Again it's an opportunity to build some momentum and stay a good arm's length ahead of the Braves. It seems we have written this a few times before this season: the Nationals have a shot to get going at home, but have settled instead for a 5-4 or 5-5 homestand.

Well, this would be a good time to shake off that trend because the final month-plus of the season features a pair of vaunted long road trips that will pretty much decide the final NL East standings:

* August 25-September 3 (9 games): Phillies, Mariners and Dodgers
* September 11-September 21 (11 games): Mets, Braves and Marlins

That final road swing is a 11 games, but each trip begins slowly against teams with below .500 records and features playoff and World Series contenders.

So again a chance to play well at home and then take this "machine," all due respect to the 1970's Reds, on the road again, where they have done very well.

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