Craig Heist, wtop.com
WASHINGTON— After splitting their four-game series against the Marlins in Miami, the Nationals schedule will keep them in the National League East for the next 10 games beginning with Tuesday's game with the Mets.
They entered the game with a 2 ½ game lead over the Braves who are home for a series with the Giants and a six game lead over New York so this stretch of games over the next week-and-a-half (3 vs. the Mets, 4 vs. the Braves and then 3 more against the Mets in New York) could have a huge impact on the Nats positioning for the post season.
"No question about it," said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. "Those are the guys you got to beat. It's the joy of this game; you got 18 games against your division rivals. That's how you match up. I like the way we match up although we aren't 100 percent healthy but we are a lot better off than we have been most of the year." The skipper is right and most of it has to do with the fact Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse have emerged as the middle of the order threats the Nats were missing for a good portion of the first half.
Coming into Tuesday's game, Morse had hit safely in 16-of-20 games since June 22, hitting .357 over that stretch with three doubles, three homers and 11 RBI.
Zimmerman has been even more impressive since taking a cortisone shot for his ailing left shoulder. The third baseman has hit seven home runs with 21 RBI in his last 18 games which includes a seven game hitting streak.
"Michael Morse is healthy and swinging the bat good," Johnson said. "It seems like Zim has overcome the catastrophe to his shoulder and he's swinging the heck out of it so I feel like we are able to put our better foot forward than we have been.
Zimmerman is well aware as are most of his teammates just how big this stretch is for this club against the NL East holding a 2 1/2 game lead, even if it's just the latter part of July.
"Anytime you can kind of lengthen your lead or play catch up if you are behind by playing so many in a row it's an important time," said Zimmerman.
Especially with the Braves right behind them and riding a seven game winning streak heading into Tuesday. Consistency is the main thing for Zimmerman and the Nats and they need to keep doing the same things that got them to this point.
"We need to keep doing the little things right," he said. "I think our pitching has been great but we have played good defense and our offense has gotten healthier as the year has gone on so we are starting to score some more runs. So we just need to keep doing what we've been doing and come to the park everyday and just playing that day.
"The name of the game is to be consistent and just win series. When you go into a bad streak, to just try and be around .500. There's going to be other teams that go seven or eight in a row like the Braves have but we are going to go seven and eight in a row too. When things go bad it can't be 2-12, it's got to be like 5-7."
Tyler Clippard has been the rock in the pen as the closer and knows this stretch can make or break the Nationals as far as their success the rest of the season.
"It's real important," Clippard said. "It could be your season. When you are playing in your division, those are the most important games of the year. We're at a stretch of our season, the second half and we essentially have our fate in our own hands. If we can just continue to play good baseball against our own division opponents, it's going to set us up nice for the rest of the season." This may turn out to be the biggest homestand of the year.
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