Bring on the Braves

Do the Mets really have to leave town?

Is there any way they can hang around a bit longer? Can someone divert their train back to D.C. and have them play a few more games at Nats Park? If Davey Johnson promises not to have Johan Santana cover the gold patch on his glove, is the lefty willing to throw a few more times against the Nats?

With just three games between these two teams still to be played, the season series between the Nationals and Mets has been dominated by the best team in baseball. The Nats are 11-4 against the Mets and have won all five series the two teams have played.

They've outscored the Mets 69-48, holding their division rivals to 3.2 runs per game.

If the Mets do indeed need to go back to Flushing, I guess having the Braves come into town isn't a bad second choice.

The Nationals have played quite well against their main division competitors this season, posting a 8-4 record against the Braves and outscoring them 68-47. If not for that strong record against Atlanta, these two teams might be a heck of a lot tighter in the division race.

As it is, the Nats hold a five-game lead over the Braves in the National League East entering this big three-game series, a nice margin but one no one in the Nationals' clubhouse is comfortable with.

"We've played them pretty good. So, they need to prove something to themselves when they come in here," Johnson said. "And we're still trying to prove it to everybody. It's going to be fun."

The Braves have been tight on the Nats' tail for much of the season, failing to let the team with the best record in baseball open up a large division lead. Four times this season has the Nats' edge in the NL East reached at least five games, and each time it has, the Braves have chipped into that deficit the very next day.

ryan-zimmerman-back-batting-red.jpg"The Braves are a really good team," Ryan Zimmerman said. "That's a really good team and I don't think they're going to go anywhere."

It shouldn't come as much surprise, but Nats players and coaches have been lightly following what the Braves have been doing over the last handful of weeks. Recently, when the Nats game ends and the Braves are still playing, you'll see the Atlanta game on the vast majority of the TVs in the Nationals' clubhouse.

Still, the Nats say that they aren't particularly pumped for this series. They'll treat this one just as they treat any other, even with the implications within the division being what they are.

"I don't think you can (treat it differently)," Danny Espinosa said. "I think you just go out there and you play the best baseball you can. I think if you gear up and you try to do too much, that's when your team might scuffle. Everyone's trying to do more. And it kind of makes you press. So I think you just go out there and the team stays within themselves and you just play well."

If one of these teams plays particularly well over the next three days, the division race could look a whole lot different come Thursday morning. A Braves sweep cuts the Nationals' lead to two games. A Nationals sweep opens up an eight-game advantage in the division.

With these two teams only facing each other three more times after this series, the next three days might be bigger than those in the Nationals' clubhouse are willing to let on.

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