Rachel Levitin: Nats need to pay extra attention to NL East games down the stretch

It hasn't been an easy road trip for the Nationals. They're 4-4 against the Rockies, Reds and Marlins with one more game to be played before heading home on Thursday.

The Nats have dropped two of three in Miami with their final game of that series this afternoon. Once they return to Washington, the next homestand - if played well - could help bolster their hopes for a slightly longer season, as long as they make a strong strike against their National League East division foes.

The Phillies will pop into town for a three-game set before a makeup game is played against the Orioles. Then the Mets come to town. All of this is important because the Nats are currently clinging to first place while being a half-game ahead of the Atlanta Braves, who Washington will face next Friday through Sunday.

Dropping a pair of games to the Marlins could definitely be seen as a wakeup call. I can't say I'm inside Matt Williams' head or any of the players' heads for that matter. But I will say that it's essential to pay special attention to play within the division, especially with Ryan Zimmerman being down for the count (again). He won't be returning for a few weeks. But that's nothing the Nats haven't already dealt with before.

As long as the Nats focus in on divisional play, they stand a fighting chance of fending off the Braves during the next two months of regular season baseball. If they can do that, then maybe - just maybe - Washington could play a little extra baseball in October.

Rachel Levitin blogs about the Nationals for We Love DC. Follow her on Twitter: @RHLevitin. She will be sharing her observations about baseball in the nation's capital as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. 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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