As the Nationals prepare for the most important series in their brief history since relocating to the Nation’s Capital in 2005, it is important to look back at what they have done to get themselves to this point in the first place. Led by their quality pitching and clutch hitting, it is easy to lose sight of the way they have steadily chipped away at their schedule to become the first team in the game to 75 wins.
Washington does not boast the longest winning streak in the majors, or even in the National League this season. That distinction belongs to the Cincinnati Reds, who won 10 straight from July 19-29. The Nats did not earn a three-game sweep this year until taking all three at Atlanta in late May. No, this team has not won in attention-grabbing spurts. They have instead been a slow, steady force with remarkable consistency, one that has lead to the following impressive statistic. In series play in 2012, the Nationals are an eye-popping 25-8-6.
This all started at the very beginning of the season. Despite not achieving a sweep (other than a two-game set vs. Miami April 20-21 in which the third scheduled matchup was rained out), the Nationals won their first six series to open the 2012 campaign. Almost every time they have been faced with a tough test, whether it be the first matchup with the dreaded Phillies over NATITUDE Weekend, three road games in Cincinnati or at Fenway, or sets against the first-place Giants both at home and on the road, the Nationals have stepped forward and won the series.
Now the Nats face the biggest threat remaining between them and a shot at their first-ever postseason berth, an Atlanta team that sits 5.0 games back entering play Monday night. A large part of the cushion that Washington enjoys as this series begins comes from their 8-4 head-to-head record against the Braves, a product of a 5-1 record at Turner Field. But the Nationals have only split the six games between the teams so far in D.C. If they find a way to take at least two of three this week, they’ll lock up a winning record both at home and overall in the season series with one more three-game bout in Atlanta still to come in mid-September.
For a city that has not seen an honest-to-goodness pennant race in 79 years, this week’s games are as close as the District has come to experiencing that feeling in quite some time. The first matchup will feature Tim Hudson – who has been traditionally tough on the Nats but less so this season – and Jordan Zimmermann, who has yet to face the Braves this season. Perhaps that sort of uncertainty in the outcome is fitting for a series like this one, in which one essentially throws away the history between the two teams. All that matters is the here and now. And all the Nationals can do is what they have done all year long – go out and try to win the series.