WASHINGTON -- There is usually a natural letdown for any club the first day after wrapping up a division title. Manager Dusty Baker had hoped this would help his team avoid one in its first game after wrapping up the National League East on Sunday, considering the Nats had an off-day Monday to help with the recovery.
But the Nationals were not sharp in an 8-0 loss to the Braves on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, as left-hander Gio Gonzalez struggled and the Nats' offense was shut down by right-hander Julio Teheran.
"You take it for what it was, sweep it under the rug and get ready for tomorrow," Gonzalez said. "It was one of those games you can't really understand what happened, just pick up what you can and go from there."
Once the Nationals put Tuesday's game in their rear view, they still carry a few remaining objectives heading into the final weeks of the season before they gear up for postseason play.
"Staying focused on what our original plan was," Baker said before the game. "To try to still win games, keep some momentum going."
The first goal is health, and that will perhaps be the most important one during the next few weeks. Baker will hope to get a few players healed up while keeping his regulars sharp, all with an eye toward potentially chasing down the Dodgers for the best record in the National League and home-field advantage in the postseason. After Tuesday's loss, Washington trailed Los Angeles by four games, pending the Dodgers' game against the Giants in San Francisco.
Outfielder Jayson Werth was out of the team's starting lineup for the fifth consecutive game Tuesday with a sore left shoulder. Baker had initially hoped Werth could return for the series opener against the Braves, and even though the manager said Werth is "doing better," the club decided to wait at least another day.
The shoulder has been bothering Werth since he got hit with a pitch during a Minor League rehab assignment a few weeks ago, but he had been able to play through it. However, once the shoulder began bothering him and helped contribute to an 0-for-20 stretch during Werth's last six games, the team decided to shut him down to fix the issue.
The health of Bryce Harper will be the other major storyline for the Nationals during the next few weeks. Harper is walking without much of a limp these days, and Baker said the star is progressing and hoped he could begin ramping up his baseball activities soon.
"What's next is hopefully have him start hitting and see how his legs feel," Baker said. "Running and sliding and cutting and dodging's going to be the thing. He's progressing. I got my trainers [to] let me know when he's really progressing, because you don't want to force him to progress, because that leads to regression."
Baker has also kept an eye on the Dodgers. He said he has often watched their late games on the West Coast -- or at least part of them -- before he turns in for the night. He pays attention to every team close in the standings to the Nationals across baseball, including the American League's Indians and Astros.
And while Baker hopes to catch the Dodgers, it's not something he wants his players to focus on.
"I want them to concentrate more on today," he said." Let me worry about that."
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.