For all their talk about having the kind of clubhouse to keep them on an even keel, the Nationals haven't shown much steadiness on the field in the last 2 1/2 months. They lost 10 of 12 in late May, and then won 18 of their next 25. They came into Nationals Park last Saturday having lost 13 of their last 17, dropping them all the way back to seven games under .500. But just as they've played poorly enough to extinguish most of their season's relevance, they're starting to come back again.
They beat the Braves 5-3 on Monday night, winning their third straight game and moving back within four games of the .500 mark. Livan Hernandez, who'd only lasted four innings in two of his last three outings, put together a six-inning, one-run performance. And Rick Ankiel, who returned from the disabled list on July 1 with a .204 average, is batting .338 since then. He hit two homers on Monday night, including one to lead off the game.
Rick Ankiel meets up with Debbi Taylor after contributing two home runs in the Nats' win
This will happen from time to time with the Nationals, because they're mostly an average collection of young players with more potential than experience and veterans with better pedigrees than ceilings. But they're clearly not going to curl up in the last two months of the season, and with a few breaks, they might have a chance to hang around .500.
"I've felt good about this offense the whole year, since I got here in spring training," said right fielder Jayson Werth, who went 1-for-3 and scored two runs. "I was happy that not a whole lot happened over the trade deadline. I think going forward, this is going to be a gritty baseball team."
They continued to trip the Braves up on their way to the NL wild card berth, winning for the fifth time in 10 games against Atlanta this year. It was the second straight time the Nationals - a team that has been shut down this year by Jonathon Niese and Kyle Lohse - knocked All-Star Jair Jurrjens out of a game after five innings.
They'll have a shot to get a series win against the Braves tomorrow and nudge their record back to three games under .500 before a pair of forgiving road series with the Rockies and Cubs. It's probably not enough to make the season meaningful, but the Nationals are at least still able to make it interesting.