On Saturday, the Braves had a chance to gain ground on the Nationals, who lost to the Mets, 2-0. But Atlanta lost to the Dodgers, 6-1.
"The Nationals don't give up. They are just like us. They could be down three or four runs, [like] the other night [against D-backs], and they came back," Braves center fielder Michael Bourn said. "They play all nine innings, and we are the same way. It's a battle when we play each other. It's a fun battle, though. They know we are good. We know they are good. It's two good teams going against each other."
During the season series, the Braves have lost eight out of 12 games to the Nationals, who realize the games will not be easy against Atlanta.
"We have played important series all year long," Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond said. "We just understand we have to go out and play our type of baseball. If we play good, clean baseball, we should be able to take care of business, whether it's the most important series of the year or the least important series of the year.
"The Braves do things the right way. They are built for the future. They have great pitching and a strong offense, from top to bottom. They have some good young guys like we do. We expected to be in the dog fight with them and the rest of the division all year long."
Said Nationals manager Davey Johnson about the Braves, "They are the club we have to play well against. They have always been ahead of the Nationals in the standings [over the years]. They were ahead of us last year. I have respected what the Mets are doing and what the Marlins are doing, but you can't overlook what the Phillies and Braves have done."
Atlanta entered Sunday four games ahead of the Pirates in the Wild Card standings, but Braves manager Freddi Gonzalez made it clear recently that he wants to win the division.
"We still have our eyes on the division, because even though I would have taken that one-game playoff last year, it's difficult for that format this year," Gonzalez said. "We would still like to catch the Nationals and win the division. That is still our goal."
It may be tough for the Braves to catch the Nationals in the standings, as Washington had the best pitching staff in the Major Leagues with a 3.26 ERA entering Sunday's action. The Braves will face Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Ross Detwiler during the three-game series.
And Washington's offense entered Sunday fifth in the National League with a .258 batting average.
"Top to bottom, they have been the best team we have played," said Braves third baseman Chipper Jones. "Their starting staff --- one through five -- is deeper than anyone. They have nice pieces in the bullpen. Davey has done a good job of putting them in situations to be successful. And they have a really solid group of everyday players. ... They put good at-bats together and they play good defense.
"The Nationals are setting a really hot pace that nobody in baseball has been able to keep up with, but I feel as long as we stay in shouting distance, we have a couple of more [series] against them head to head. Who knows what can happen?"