Putting a bow on the Atlanta series

NEW YORK - Good morning from the Big Apple. It's an off-day for the Nationals, which is much-needed for a handful of reasons.

First, the schedule: This is the Nats' first day off since July 24, 18 days ago. After this, there will be 16 more games before the next off-day, so the Nats will savor this one.

Second, the recent grind: The Nats played 13 innings Thursday, traveled to Atlanta after that game, sat through a rain delay Friday night and tried to grind out of a seven-run hole, sat through another rain delay (this one nearly lasted four hours) and played 11 innings Saturday night, and then suited up for a nationally televised Sunday night contest before flying up to New York and arriving after 3:30 a.m.

werth-frustrated-red-sidebar.jpgThird, the bumps and bruises: We're now 116 games in, and guys are starting to feel it, if they hadn't already. Jayson Werth has inflammation in the AC joint in his right shoulder that prevented him from playing Friday and Saturday. Ian Desmond has played in 114 games to this point. Werth and Anthony Rendon have appeared in 112. Denard Span has suited up for 107 games, and has played every single inning in center field since July 6.

A little rest will do these guys good on multiple fronts.

The Nats entered their three-game weekend series with the Braves holding a 4 1/2-game lead in the National League East and hoping to deliver their top division rivals what could've been a knockout blow. Atlanta had lost eight straight and had been reeling for weeks, and the Nats had a chance to put some serious separation between themselves and Fredi Gonzalez's team.

Instead, the Braves took two of three, trimming Washington's division lead to 3 1/2 games with 46 games remaining on the Nats' schedule.

Both teams scored 11 runs over the three-game set at Turner Field. Atlanta had just four more total hits. These were tight ballgames. The Braves just did enough to come away with the series win.

"I think that the series as a whole, we had some opportunities we didn't capitalize on," manager Matt Williams said after last night's 3-1 loss. "That's gonna happen."

So how do the Nats view the series as a whole? How do they digest their time in Atlanta and react to taking one of the three games?

"Obviously you want to beat them, but at the same time, you've got to shake it off," Desmond said. "I know the Mets are hungry to beat us, so we've got to focus on them now. Worry about what we can."

That knockout blow in Atlanta sure would have been nice, but the Nats could be in far worse places than sitting with 3 1/2-game lead in the division. They've got their eyes set on making a nice run over these next six-plus weeks, but will continue to do so with a level-headed, focused approach.

"If we play clean baseball, good, clean baseball - nothing spectacular, nothing great - just play clean games, pitch well and play good defense, we're going to be just fine," Desmond said. "It's not necessarily any do-or-die situation. We've just got to go out there and play good baseball and focus on that. And the rest will take care of itself."

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