Dave Nichols: Breakout over weekend gives hope for the stretch

The good news: The Nationals have won four of their last five games. The bad news? They trail the Braves by 8 1/2 games heading into play this week. Some more good news: The Nats still have nine games head-to-head with Atlanta before the end of the season. By getting the deficit back under that nine games, the Nats still kind of control their destiny.

It's a tough road, but it looks better than before the series with the Mets over the weekend, which started with the Mets clobbering the Nats and ended the other way around on Sunday, when Taylor Jordan limited the Mets to five hits and one run, while the Nats bats broke out for season highs in runs (14) and hits (18).

They could use quite a bit more of that type of offense the rest of the way. Was it one good day against a collection of crummy Mets pitchers? Or was is something more? August and September will tell us.

The entire bottom of the batting order crushed the ball Sunday. Ian Desmond had four hits, as did Denard Span. Wilson Ramos crushed his first career grand slam and just like that, the Nats had a dominating victory. It's the kind of stuff that winning streaks are born from.

There was plenty of that against the Mets, if you were wiling to look. Two walk-offs - one by Bryce Harper and the other by Mr. Walk-Off himself, Ryan Zimmerman - preceded Sunday's outburst. Maybe the Nats are getting hot at the right time. Let's hope it's not too late.

The Braves are catchable, still. They are decimated by injuries and have a knack for keeping pennant races close. The Nats have a lot of work to do, but still have more home games than road trips available to take advantage of.

Manager Davey Johnson had a long week last week. It started with the dismissal of his batting coach and ended with the demotion of his former closer and open discussion of the organization's handling of the whole situation. It's not how Johnson wanted - or expected - to go out in his final season behind the bench. This team still has time to make it a happy ending for the veteran skipper, but they need to get to work. Right now.

Dave Nichols is editor-in-chief of District Sports Page and co-hosts the "Nats Nightly" Internet radio show. Read Nichols' Nationals observations as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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