Hitting the road and going for gold

Of course, the Nationals were disappointed they couldn't pick up a win yesterday to close out their homestand on a positive note and stay even with the Braves, who won in 10 innings to cut the gap in the National League East to 5 1/2 games.

The postgame frustration didn't linger too long, however. As the Nats packed up for a six-game road trip and put their 8-0 defeat behind them, they commenced with their annual rookie hazing, giving the veterans a chance to get a few laughs at their younger teammates' expense.

You might remember that last year, Nationals rookies had to dress up as Smurfs for their train ride to New York. This year, the hazing was Olympic-themed; the rookies came out of their postgame showers and found USA Women's Gymnastics leotards hanging in their lockers.

Nats_rookie_hazing_2012.jpgAs you'll see at right (the picture courtesy of Gio Gonzalez's Twitter account), Tyler Moore, Corey Brown, Eury Perez, Sandy Leon, Christian Garcia, Steve Lombardozzi and Bryce Harper all donned the leotards and gold medals for their trip to New York.

"I'm humiliated for them," Adam LaRoche said after yesterday's game, the Olympic theme music blasting in the background. "I remember dressing up in a Spiderman spandex costume about nine or 10 years ago (as a rookie with the Braves). It's not a good feeling."

Unfortunately for Brown and Lombardozzi, despite getting all decked out in Smurf attire last year, they got lumped in with the rookies again this time around. The good news is that in New York, eight guys walking around in leotards probably isn't one of the top 10 strangest things passers-by will see in a 24-hour span.

The Nats will begin a three-game series with the Mets tonight and then head to Atlanta for a big three-game set with the Braves.

This will be a crucial stretch; it's the Nationals' second-to-last road trip of the season and will give them a chance to do some major damage to the Braves' hopes of overtaking them for the division title.

"We're not relying on them to melt down. We're relying on ourselves to continue to do what we've done all year," LaRoche said. "And if we do that, it won't matter if those guys stay as hot as they are now. So, again, this isn't a sit and wait for Atlanta to fall apart. I don't think guys care what they do. When they lose it, pick up a game, great, but we need to get locked in and be focused going into October."

Luckily for the Nats, these two series will come against the two division opponents they've fared the best against this season.

Davey Johnson's squad is 11-4 against the Mets and 10-5 versus Atlanta. As I mentioned yesterday, they're pleased to finally be done with the Marlins (9-9 this season) and have a below .500 record (5-7) against the Phillies, who they still will face six more times this season.

Each game and each series stands on its own. But if the Nats can emerge from this road trip with their current 5 1/2-game lead or better, they'd be in pretty good shape with about two weeks to go.

Not that they're in any way looking that far ahead.

"It's no easy task," Jayson Werth said. "We've got a long, hard stretch ahead of us, and we've got to play good baseball. We just need to keep being the same team we've been all year."

And that's a team that's able to move on from an 8-0 loss and laugh it up as the rookies step into leotards and suffer through what had to be an uncomfortable wedgie-filled train ride north.

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