Nationals continue to crush rivals' hopes

In mid-June, the Nationals traveled to New York to face off against the Mets for a four-game series. The Nats were 39-26 and the Mets were 30-34. Sports talk radio in New York was buzzing for a possible four-game Mets sweep. If New York could pull it off, the Nats' lead would be only 4 1/2 games.

The Nats went into New York and promptly won three of the four games.

With each long road trip or matchup against playoff contending teams, the Nats were subjected to criticism like, "This will be the trip that hurts them like in the past" or "The Nats can't beat the good teams."

All the Nats have done is go 9-1, 7-2 and 7-2 on long trips and put together a 18-11 (.621) record against teams in the National League postseason hunt:

Vs. Diamondbacks, 4-2
Vs. Cubs, 4-3
Vs. Rockies, 4-3
Vs. Astros, 2-1
Vs. Dodgers, 2-1
Vs. Brewers, 2-1

Only two teams have a winning record against the Nats this season: the Pirates are 2-1 and the Rangers are 3-0.

Against their own division, the Nats are 35-22 (.614).

Which brings us back to their matchup with the Marlins this week. Miami had come into the series hot with high hopes, winning four straight and seven of eight games. A Marlins sweep and they would be only nine games back of the Nats with about a month to play.

The Nats swept the Marlins and their lead is now a robust 15 games in the NL East.

Baker-Points-Gray-Sidebar.jpg"We played a very good series against these guys," manager Dusty Baker said. "They were trying to catch us and get back in the wild card. Now we go on the road. We had I think a 5-2 homestand, which is a good homestand, especially after we split the first series."

"Feel like every time you win, it feels good no matter what," said catcher Jose Lobaton. "Every day we come in and try to beat those guys. Today was one of those days. Team is doing really good and we're pretty happy."

The Nats are now 81-51.

Baker said before Wednesday's game that he wanted to eliminate each team in the division one at a time by "putting an X by their name." He spoke about giving pitchers extended rest - like Max Scherzer not starting again until Sunday in Milwaukee - and said a six-man rotation was a possibility.

But the bottom line, Baker said, was to win the division. He did not want to talk about the time off the Nats will get after the last game of the regular season that will help them set up their postseason rotation. There have been many September leads that have evaporated before October dreams can begin.

So Baker now focuses on Milwaukee. He said Bryce Harper is coming on this trip. Recovery from injuries is the No. 1 opponent for the Nats to overcome now. Getting Harper right before Oct. 6 is at the top of the list.

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