Hope stays alive for another day

It sure is starting to feel like playoff season, all right.

The Reds and Pirates played a thrilling 10-inning ballgame last night, in which Cincinnati came from two runs down in the ninth to tie the game and then won it in extras on Joey Votto's home run.

The Cardinals and Brewers played a crazy 10-inning game of their own, in which St. Louis scored twice in the top of the ninth to take a 6-4 lead, only to see the Brewers tie it up in the bottom of the ninth with two of their own. The Cardinals then immediately bounced back by scoring in the 10th, and held on for the win.

The Orioles and Rays played an 18-inning marathon, in which the two teams combined to use 21 pitchers. Unfortunately, this time, Chris Davis wasn't one of them.

If you're a baseball fan, there's nothing better than this time of year when the weather starts to cool and the action starts to really heat up.

The Nationals' time may be running out, but they remain a part of the madness for now. Last night's 8-0 win at the very least kept the Nationals alive as they try and make a miraculous run over the season's final nine days.

Things certainly weren't aided by the fact that Cincinnati came back to beat Pittsburgh, a game that many Nats players were monitoring carefully in the home clubhouse at Nationals Park last night. There were a couple expletives shouted through the quiet room when the Reds tied the game in the ninth, and the mood - previously pretty high after a dominating win over the Marlins that saw Jordan Zimmermann throw a two-hit shutout - quickly turned a bit more somber.

That said, the Nats still have hope, and on a day-to-day basis, that's all they can really ask for. Every win buys them a bit more time for now, with hope that either the Reds or Pirates will collapse down the stretch and open a door for the Nats to slide into.

"We're not mathematically out of it yet," Zimmermann said. "You've got to keep fighting 'til the end and hopefully one of these other two teams tank."

Currently, the Reds and Pirates are tied for the two National League wild card spots, with the Nats five games back. Eight games remain on the schedule for all three teams, but there is one factor that gives the Nats one glimmer of hope down the final stretch.

Of those eight games that the Reds and Pirates have left, five will be against each other. They have two more head-to-head battles in Pittsburgh this weekend, and then will close the season with three more games against each other in Cincinnati next week.

So which team should the Nats be rooting for at this point, the Reds or the Pirates?

"We're fans of whoever can sweep another team," Denard Span said.

That's pretty much what the Nats need to hope for - that either the Reds or Pirates take the final five games of the head-to-head matchup between the two NL Central rivals.

If the Nats can go 7-1 down the stretch (not an easy task in its own right), they'd get to 90 wins, the mark that Davey Johnson has been eying all long. If either the Reds or Pirates then finish the season 2-6, that would put them in a tie with the Nats for the final wild card spot, and it would set up a one game playoff to determine who makes the postseason.

Unfortunately for the Nats, both the Reds and Pirates have a mediocre team still remaining on their schedule. The Reds will host the Mets for three games starting Monday, while the Pirates will travel to Wrigley Field to play the Cubs for three.

It seems to me like of the two teams, the Pirates are more likely to collapse. They had the tough loss last night, have gone 7-9 in their last 16 and have to go on the road for their final six games.

It will still take a miracle for the Nats to sneak into the dance, but they'll be watching the scoreboard carefully from here on out. You can count on that.

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