Another night, another couple games are cut off of the Nationals' magic number.
The magic number to clinch the division is now down to 13 after last night's Nats win and another Braves loss. In addition, the Dodgers lost last night, cutting the Nationals' magic number to clinch a playoff spot to seven.
The Nats' lead in the NL East is up to 7 1/2 games, meaning the worst-case scenario has them leaving their three-game weekend series in Atlanta still up 3 1/2 games.
After a long road filled with plenty of obstacles, the Nationals are getting close to the finish line. And they're playing great baseball as the end of the regular season approaches.
There's legitimate power from one to eight in the batting order, and Jayson Werth and Byrce Harper present a major challenge for opposing pitchers at the top of the lineup. Last night, the two outfielders combined to reach base nine of the 10 times they stepped to the plate, with Werth going 2-for-2 with three walks and Harper posting his first career four-hit game.
The bullpen is really rounding into form, and even if Tyler Clippard makes things a little interesting at times, Davey Johnson now has plenty of weapons at his disposal in the late innings.
Sean Burnett should be back from elbow inflammation tonight, Drew Storen is looking like his old self, and Michael Gonzalez, Ryan Mattheus and others have been effective in various setup roles.
Now, there's a new name to toss into the mix. Christian Garcia, the 27-year-old coming off two Tommy John surgeries who waited a long time to make his major league debut, is flourishing, and Johnson is giving him a look in crucial late-inning situations.
Last night, Garcia was brought in for the seventh inning of a one-run game. He worked into the eighth, facing four batters in all, retiring all four of them. Three of the four were set down via the strikeout.
Is Garcia making a push for one of the spots on the Nationals' playoff roster? You bet he is.
There was one bit of negative news to come out of last night's game, and it involves Michael Morse, whose left wrist has been bothering him for a few weeks now.
Morse told reporters that he feels he isn't helping the team as he tries to play through the pain in his wrist, so he'll likely be held out of the lineup for a few days. The team will likely schedule an MRI and an X-ray for their left fielder, who is hitting just .239 with two home runs in 88 at-bats since injuring his right thumb in San Francisco, an injury which apparently led to the wrist issues.
Morse's absence could mean more at-bats for Tyler Moore, who delivered the big pinch-hit home run last night.
That's the way this season has been for the Nationals: they haven't lacked their share of bumps in the road, but they've seemingly always found a way to not only overcome, but emerge stronger in the end.
We've had a rookie slugger coming into his own, a rookie reliever showing he can compete at the major league level and a one-two punch at the top of the order featuring a 33-year-old and a 19-year-old.
The end is in sight, and the pieces are falling into place.