There was a point, for a couple of hours in between games of their July 21 day-night doubleheader, when it appeared the Nationals were on the verge of surrendering their lead in the NL East to the Braves. After taking the first two games of that four-game series, Atlanta had crept to within 1 12 games and appeared to have momentum on its side.
All the Nationals have done since is go 22-7. During that same span, the Braves have gone 18-10.
Which makes the dynamic for this week's showdown between the two clubs a bit different than perhaps everyone expected. Instead of coming back to D.C. with a chance to reach or even overtake the Nats, the Braves instead arrive here a full five games back and desperately needing to take at least two of three simply to avoid falling into an even deeper hole.
That's an advantageous position for Davey Johnson's squad to find itself in.
"It goes back into July, August: We've played them pretty good," the manager said. "So they need to prove something to themselves when they come in here. And we're still trying to prove it to everybody. It's going to be fun."
The Nationals have gone 8-4 against the Braves this season, winning the last two games of that previous series to help create some separation between the two clubs. In the month that has elapsed since, Washington has become the frontrunner, with Atlanta now trying to play catch-up.
Through it all, players have tried to insist they're not constantly keeping an eye on the team directly behind them in the standings, even though they're well aware of the state of things at this moment.
"Sure, we're paying attention to Atlanta," Johnson said. "But we're concentrating at what we've got at hand."
What they've got at hand this week is an opportunity to deal their lone remaining challenger for the division title a serious blow. With Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Ross Detwiler lined up to start these three games at home, the Nationals have positioned themselves well.
Not that they're taking anything for granted.
"We have a great team. But the Braves have been playing unbelievable baseball as well, so it's not going to be an easy three games," Danny Espinosa said. "It's definitely going to be a dog fight with them."