Dave Nichols: No room for error

It's come to this for the Nationals. They have 13 games to play in the regular season and trail the Reds by 4 1/2 games for the final wild card spot. They are close enough to taste it, yet still far enough out that they aren't much more than a mathematical possibility at this point. It's excruciating to think that if the Nats had managed to play the Braves evenly this season, this would be a completely different discussion.

The Nats are 4-12 against the Braves. If they'd gone 8-8, well, they'd be just a half-game back of the Reds. Now that's a close race. That's more than a mathematical possibility. That's just the difference of the Nats having played one fewer game than the Reds right now.

Alas, we don't have the luxury to just give the Nats four more wins. They have to earn those. And the Reds, obviously, have to lose. Cincinnati is 6-4 over its past 10 games, yet the Nats have made two games up on them in that time frame. But there's no more room for error.

The Nationals have won eight of their last nine games and 25 of the last 35, but they have to play even better than that for their final 13 to have a shot at the postseason.

The Nats get the Braves this week for a huge three-game series, then the Marlins for four games. Those four games against Miami are the final four home games of the season. Doesn't seem possible. Yet, here we are.

The Braves series means even more than trying to catch the Reds, though. Atlanta has kind of had their way with the Nats this season. Sure, the majority of the games between the two teams came earlier in the season when the Nats were playing their worst, but it doesn't change the fact the Braves have won 12 of the 16 meetings thus far and outscored the Nats 63-37.

Davey Johnson said as much over the weekend while the Nats pounded the Phillies. "We played them a lot of close games, but we didn't hold our own with them," Johnson said. "We need to at least send a message to them these next three days that we're better than them."

Send a message we're better than them. Those are strong words coming from a guy who might be unemployed in two weeks, but Johnson's never been one to mince words. It would be nice to see his team prove those words the next three days.

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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