Keeping it in perspective

ATLANTA - Over 24 defensive innings the last three days, the Nationals surrendered 13 walks, hit two Braves batters and allowed three more to reach on errors.

That's 18 guys who reached base without truly earning it.

"You can't do that," manager Davey Johnson said.

Offensively, the Nats plated just six runs in three games, struck out 35 times and had only 15 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

The Braves played well enough to win all three games in this series, but the Nationals sure helped them out a bit.

With 16 games remaining in the regular season, the Nationals are coming off a bit of a sloppy series. They have one of their biggest power hitters (Michael Morse) out with a wrist injury. They have their everyday second baseman (Danny Espinosa) going for an MRI on an ailing left shoulder. And they have a division lead which in the span of three days shrunk three games.

Now's the time to get concerned, right?

"I feel fine about where we're at," Johnson calmly said last night.

Oh. The cool, calm and collected mentality hasn't changed one bit.

Johnson walked around the Nationals' clubhouse after last night's game with a big smile planted on his face. He joked with team employees, had quiet, up-beat chats with players and left in seemingly just as good a mood as he was when the Nats arrived in Atlanta with an 8 1/2-game division lead.

The edge over the Braves is now down to 5 1/2 games, but that changes nothing in the Nationals' minds. With 16 games to play, they've still got a nice cushion and hold their fate in their own hands.

"It's over with," Adam LaRoche said of the three-game sweep at the hands of the Braves. "It's not the way we drew it up, but the good thing is all the work we've done up until now, we're still (5 1/2 games) up. It would've been nice to just take one (game) and not fall so far behind, but we're still in the driver's seat."

If you think all that is just talk, check out these numbers: If the Nationals play .500 ball the rest of the way out, the Braves would need to go 14-1 in order to overtake them for the NL East title.

A heck of a lot would need to go wrong for the Nationals and a heck of a lot would need to go right for the Braves in order for Washington to blow their division edge.

"We're fine. We've put ourselves in a good position," Ryan Zimmerman said. "We've played well all year. There's two weeks left of playing baseball. Everything's right in front of us."

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