Nationals looking at another key road trip

If the Nationals have had a weakness this season, it’s been the same as it has been most years: playing inside their division.

They are eight games under .500 against National League East opponents, having already lost eight times to the Marlins and six to the Phillies. Against everybody else, they’re four over .500.

Keep that in mind as they start their final three-city road trip of the year tonight with the first of four games in Denver against the Colorado Rockies. The Nationals’ last grueling road swing of the year is also one of their final opportunities to pad their record.

They’ll start with the Rockies, who have slipped to 51-60 after winning plenty of praise and postseason predictions from writers (including this one) before the season started. They’ve pitched poorly, trading away Ubaldo Jimenez a year after he finished third in the NL Cy Young vote, and have disappointed at home, going 26-29 at Coors Field. The Nationals have lost six of their last seven in Denver, but they also haven’t faced a Rockies team that’s been struggling this much in several years.

From there, they’ll go to Chicago for three games against the Cubs, who have the second-worst record in the National League and the third-worst in baseball, behind only the Orioles and the Astros. These seven games are another chance for the Nationals to stockpile some wins (you’ll remember they missed a chance to do that on their last road trip with the Astros and Dodgers). And they’ll need to do it, because they get back into a tough stretch after that.

After these seven games, the Nationals play only 13 of their final 45 against teams below the .500 mark. That stretch will start with three in Philadelphia, and the Nationals come home to face the Phillies and Diamondbacks on their next homestand.

They’ve missed several opportunities to take advantage of soft spots in their schedule already this year. If they blow this one, they won’t have many more left.