It's very hard to be the chaser. While a loss will always be bad, how good a win is is dependent on the team you are chasing. If they lose it's great step forward. If they win as well, then your win is just a frustrating holding of ground. How am you supposed to feel? Hold on, let me check the Reds' score first.
Anyway here is the big moment for the Nats. They've beaten up the little guys. Nine of their next 13 are against quality teams. These first three are against an Atlanta team that has dominated the Nats this season. 4-12 over the first 16 contests. Meanwhile the Reds (the Pirates and Cardinals at 8 games out almost certainly uncatchable at this point) get to play the Astros. They should handle them. Then again, they should have handled the Brewers.
Let's go to the internets!
Minor v Haren
Garcia v Roark
Wood v Ohlendorf
That's right the Nats roll into a series where they need to beat possibly the best team in the National League and throw out Haren, Roark, and Ohlendorf. All three have been decent or good recently but still its not what you want to see. There are a couple things working in the Nats favor, though. They miss the bulk of the Braves better arms, getting the fill-in Freddy Garcia and the rookie Alex Wood. Also, the Braves bats have been pretty cold recently. .229 / .318 / .370 over the past week, worse than that the week before.
Whether or not the Reds cooperate, this is where the Nats can prove they belonged in the playoff picture. They could show that if circumstances (and management choices) had been different from the get go then they wouldn't have been fighting for the last WC spot but rather securely in the playoffs. However, lose 2 of 3 or get swept and it exposes the Nats as something less. They are the best of the rest, rather than a true contender. That is the story so far. 1-3 v Baltimore, 1-2 v Cleveland, 2-2 v Detroit, 1-5 v LA, 3-4 v Pittsburgh, 0-3 v St. Louis. This is their chance, if not to make it in the playoffs, at least to rewrite that narrative.