The Nationals have reached the home stretch of the season, 19 games over 21 days to conclude a 2010 season that still could go either way.
A week ago, the Nats looked like a safe bet to reach 70 wins. But five straight losses, including a sweep at the hands of the Marlins over the weekend, leave them at 60-83. Now they need to finish 10-9 to get to 70 wins.
And that's going to be a challenge because the schedule is about to get rough. Beginning tonight in Atlanta, the Nationals will play 12 of their final 19 games against the contending Braves and Phillies.
Every game matters for those two teams, with the Phillies currently holding a 1-game lead in the NL East and the Braves narrowly leading the three NL West contenders (the Giants, Padres and Rockies) in the wild-card race. You know they'll be coming out with full effort for the stretch run. But will the Nats?
After yesterday's loss to the Marlins, Jim Riggleman and his coaches chewed out their players for a perceived lack of energy. It's certainly not uncommon to sense that in mid-September of a losing season, but it's the last thing these guys want see.
There's still plenty at stake over these final three weeks, from the Nats' won-loss record to individual jobs that are on the line. A lackluster weekend series against the Marlins couldn't bring them out of their doldrums.
Perhaps a bunch of games against contenders over the next three weeks will.