A taste of what's to come

ATLANTA - Most of the Nationals beat writers covering last night's game at Turner Field felt that there was a bit of a playoff vibe surrounding the division battle between the Nats and Braves.

The pitching was excellent, the game was tight, the crowd was large and rockin', and the game ended in dramatic fashion.

Not all the guys in the Nationals' clubhouse agreed with our line of thinking. Some brushed off the idea that last night's game had a postseason feel to it, saying that it was just another tough battle with a Braves team that's trying to track them down.

But Jayson Werth, who has played in quite a few postseason games over the course of his career, was willing to acknowledge that the type of game that we saw last night will be a common occurrence down the stretch as the Nationals make their push into October.

werth-swinging-behind-sidebar.jpg"This is playoff baseball," Werth said. "Every team we play for the rest of the way is in the hunt and hungry, so these are the types of games we're going to play for the next six weeks. We're going to have some tests, and I think we're up to the challenge. More times than not, I think we're going to win that game."

You'll notice the timeframe that Werth gave in that quote. Six weeks. That would have the Nationals playing through the end of October.

Game 1 of the World Series is scheduled for Oct. 24.

When looking back at last night's game, I think we can all agree it was a much bigger win for the Braves than it was a loss for the Nationals.

Atlanta needed that one. Trailing the Nats by 8 1/2 games in the division coming into the series, with their best starting pitcher on the mound, they needed to chip away at that deficit and put their three-game losing streak behind them.

That's what they did, and the press box at Turner Field was shaking as the Braves celebrated their walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth.

Still leading by 7 1/2 in the NL East even after the loss, the Nats were able to brush that one off pretty quickly. That's what the benefit of the best record in baseball and a large division lead will do for you.

"You play all season to build up that lead," Werth said. "We're right in the thick of it right now. We've got a nice little cushion, but like I said, we got all playoff teams the rest of the way. We're going to be tested, but I think we're ready for that test. I really do. I think probably the last two weeks you can really tell a difference in this team. We're a championship-caliber ballclub, a lot of guys just hitting stride. I like where we're at."

The Nats struck out a season-high 17 times last night, but Bryce Harper continued to rake, going 2-for-3 with a home run. Over his last 26 games, Harper is now hitting .340 with nine homers, nine RBIs and a 1.113 OPS.

Is he back in the NL Rookie of the Year race? You bet he is.

Kurt Suzuki put a charge in a couple balls, Werth reached base for the 13th time in 14 games and Ross Detwiler showed his manager that he can step up in a big atmosphere.

As a bunch of guys said last night, you put the loss behind you and you go get 'em the next day.

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