Taking a look ahead

Remember that stretch earlier this season where the Nationals played 32 straight games against teams from either the National League East or American League East?

That was a massively important span of games in the Nats' first half. It was a portion of the schedule which was either going to validate the Nationals as legitimate contenders or show them as a team still a year away from being able to compete with the big boys.

The Nats came through that 32-game stretch with an 18-14 record.

They went from 1 1/2 games back in the division when that portion began on May 18 to 3 1/2 games up in the NL East when they were done batting it out against teams from the two eastern divisions on June 25.

When the second half of the Nationals' season begins on Friday, they'll have another tough and telling portion of their schedule waiting for them right out of the gates.

ryan-zimmerman-back-batting-red.jpgStarting Friday in Miami, the Nats will play 14 straight games against the NL East. Taking that even further, 21 of Washington's first 25 games after the All-Star break ends will be against division opponents.

The Nationals know this will be a huge month in their playoff pursuit. They have the chance to take what's now a four-game lead and grow it even further, making it clear to the rest of the teams in the division that barring a dramatic late-season comeback, everyone else is playing for one of the National League's two wild card spots.

Turn that four-game advantage into a seven- or eight-game edge and the rest of the NL East will take notice.

Overall, the Nats will play 47 of their final 79 games against division opponents.

Of those 79 remaining games, they'll also have the majority (41) at home, which is important given that they finished the first half with one of the better home records in the majors at 24-16.

Despite putting up big first halves, none of the four Syracuse Chiefs who took part in the Triple-A All-Star Game last night fared all that well.

Outfielder Corey Brown led off for the International League team and went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts (finally, they found someone who can get him out), third baseman Carlos Rivero went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts and pitcher Zach Duke allowed one run on two hits in one inning of work.

Second baseman Jim Negrych did single and go 1-for-2, but it was a quiet night for the Chiefs' All-Stars.

On the rehab front, Xavier Nady went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and a walk, making him 1-for-10 since beginning his rehab assignment with Single-A Potomac.

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