Originally posted on The Nats Blog old  |  Last updated 8/20/12

The Washington Nationals have been outrageously good recently. They finished a 10-game road trip out west with eight wins and then came home and won their first series back in DC. Over their last 30 games, the Nats are 22-8. The only other team with that record is the Cincinnati Reds, who had a 10-game winning streak in that stretch. The Nats haven’t streaked like that, they’ve been consistently good. 

Unfortunately for them, the Atlanta Braves have been exceptional, too, and the Nats upcoming series with the Braves could have a significant impact on the rest of the season with 41 games remaining on both teams’ schedules. The first-place Nats hold a nice five-game lead in the National League East over the second-place Braves as the series begins. While they can’t be bumped out of first place in the series, the Nats' lead could be as large as eight games or as small as two once all is said and done, and that could make a big difference.

Head-to-head series are the only guaranteed way to make progress between two competing teams in a division. Otherwise you're counting on other opponents to beat up on a team for you. If the Nats can extend their lead over the Braves, or even just hold them off, the Nats are by far the beneficiaries. The Braves haven't had a lot of luck lately, because even though they've been great, the Nats have just been that much better. When the Nats and Braves met last time, they split the four-game series, so it was a 3.5-game lead starting and ending that series. Since then, the Nats have some how gained an extra 1.5-games over a team that has won 18 of its last 26 games. That's just how good they've been.

The impact this series will have on the division race is certainly not lost on the players involved, and Ian Desmond acknowledged the “dog fight” that is likely to persist with these teams for the remainder of the season. Looking to the six games remaining in the season series between these teams, Braves starter Tim Hudson said, "Those six games are the most important ones of the year in my eyes. They're the team we need to beat; they're the team we've been chasing most all of the year. It's a big series." 

Many have spoken of crucial series and turning points of this season, but there is little disagreement about this series’ impact. At the three-quarter mark of the season, each game starts to take on a bit more importance. Though the April games are just as important as the August games, fans and players can now see the light at the end of the tunnel, and for both the Nats and the Braves, it could include an NL East pennant if they play their cards right.

Who’s Hot?

Chipper Jones (3B) Has reached base safely every game this month.

Jason Heyward (RF) .389 with a 1.333 OPS in last five games.

Paul Janish (SS) .333 with .400 OBP in last five games.

Who’s Not?

Brian McCann (C) Season .227 average and 0-for-15 with three walks in last five games.

Dan Uggla (2B) Season .210 average and .133 in last five games.

Probable Pitchers

Tim Hudson (12-4, 3.59 ERA) vs. Jordan Zimmermann (9-7, 2.38 ERA)

Paul Mahlom (2-1, 1.57 ERA) vs. Stephen Strasburg (14-5, 2.91 ERA)

Kris Medlen (4-1, 2.03 ERA) vs. Ross Detwiler (7-5, 3.25 ERA)

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