Hope is still alive

It’s crazy how quickly things can shift this time of year.

Twenty-four hours ago, the Nationals were waking up 7 1/2 games back of the Reds in the wild card chase and looking at a possible sweep at the hands of the lowly depleted Mets.

They’d just been smoked 11-3 a night before, marking their second straight defeat, dropping them back to one game over .500. The mood in the clubhouse was somber. Players talked about how their time was running out to make a late push.

Last night, a late, dramatic comeback victory trimmed a game off the Reds’ wild card lead, bringing it down to 6 1/2 games. Afterward, music blasted through the clubhouse. Players packed their bags with smiles on their faces. Their spirits were buoyed.

The Nats still trail Cincinnati by a hefty margin with a dwindling number of games on the schedule. The odds are still very much stacked against them. But while a loss last night would have done some major damage to their playoff hopes, a victory kept them afloat for the time being.

“The rest of the way, these games are going to be pretty much do or die games,” Jayson Werth said. “We’re gonna have to win. We’re gonna have to win every night. We’re gonna have a little wiggle room there, but not a whole lot.

“I’ve been in this situation before. I know it can be done. I’ve been on teams that have done it. I believe. I got faith. We got a long, hard road, but I believe.”

Werth might know such a comeback is possible. So, too, do the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals.

On Sept. 2, 2011, the Cardinals were 8 1/2 games back of the Braves for the then lone NL wild card. St. Louis ended up coming back and taking the wild card, then rolled through the playoffs and took home the World Series title.

With ESPN broadcasting the Nats game last night, a loss and a sweep at the hands of the Mets might have prompted all kinds of put-the-nail-in-the-coffin talk on a national scale. The Nats’ season might have been completely written off by many. And the Nats themselves weren’t oblivious to that fact, according to Davey Johnson.

“Believe me, I think everybody knew,” Johnson said. “Even in the questions beforehand (in the ESPN production meeting), the conversation was, ‘Last year you had all this attitude or Natitude. And now you’ve lost it.’ I said, ‘No, we haven’t lost it, we just had a few leaks in the boat is all. But the talent is still here. And the attitude or Natitude is still pretty damn good.’ “

The Nats have their backs planted firmly against a wall, but they don’t seem to mind.

“I could care less what people think,” Bryce Harper said. “Screw what people think. Everybody talks about us all year long saying we’re not going to make this or do that. I could care less what they think. It’s all what we think.”

Harper and his teammates might think they have a legitimate shot at a playoff run. This upcoming 10-game road trip will be their chance to prove it.

Trips to Philadelphia, Miami and New York await, 10 games in 11 days against three mediocre teams (and that might be putting it kindly). Meanwhile, the Reds will have four against the Cardinals, three against the Dodgers and three against the Cubs over their next 10 days.

The schedule might be the Nats’ friend, but unless they keep rolling off the wins, they’ll soon learn that the calendar isn’t.

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