Nationals even facing tough road to earning an NL wild card berth

Now that the Braves have finished off their second series sweep in D.C. and kept the Nationals from being relevant in the National League East, the Nationals have to turn their attention to making the playoffs as a wild card.

And that avenue to October doesn't look good.

After getting swept for a second time in D.C. by the Braves this season, the Nationals are nine games behind the Reds for the second wild card spot in the NL. The Diamondbacks are also ahead of the Nationals, who won 98 games last season. The Cardinals are the wild card leaders.

If the Nationals win 30 of their final 48 games - and that's an unlikely scenario - they would finish with 84 wins.

The Nationals have to surge and the teams above them have to fold. That is a rare happening. Two years ago, the Braves were leading the NL wild card race by 9 1/2 games on Aug. 25 and wound up going 10-20 and losing the playoff spot to the eventual World Series champion Cardinals.

Here's a look at the NL wild card contenders:

* The Reds are 29-30 since June 1 and have been underachievers all season, but they swept Oakland to end a three-series losing streak. They have struggled to score runs and they didn't make a trade before July 31. They're banking on the return of outfielder Ryan Ludwig, out since the start with an injured shoulder, to return this weekend to give the lineup a lift. They have the best rotation in the NL Central with Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake, Homer Bailey and Tony Cingrani, and their bullpen got a boost with the return of Jonathan Broxton. The Reds don't play well on the road (28-32), but their schedule has 10 more home games in August and 16 in September. The Reds are 35-19 at home.

* The Diamondbacks are a few games over .500, but they are inconsistent. Their bullpen stabilized with the addition of Joe Thatcher via trade. Heath Bell has done well in the setup role for closer Brad Ziegler. Brandon McCarthy is back in the rotation, but the Diamondbacks are still waiting for Trevor Cahill to be healthy. In the meantime, they'll count on Randall Delgado, Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley, McCarthy and Zeke Spruill. The offense has been all Paul Goldschmidt. Martin Prado, Cody Ross and Didi Gregorius have been up and down and Jason Kubel, a 30-homer guy, is having a bad year.

* The Cardinals have lost 10 of their last 14 games and rookie pitchers have defined their season. Rookie Carlos Martinez was called to the majors to pitch Thursday in place of Jake Westbrook, who made an emergency appearance Wednesday when rookie Shelby Miller was taken out of a game with a bruised elbow. The Cardinals have used 11 rookie pitchers this year, and it will be interesting to see how the kids such as Miller and Joe Kelly hold up during the final weeks of the season.