MILWAUKEE -- Entering Sunday's action, the Nationals were 11 1/2 games behind the Braves in the National League East and the two clubs meet in an important three-game series at Nationals Park starting Monday night. The Nationals know how important it is to put a dent into the Braves' lead.
"This series is very important, but at the same time, we have to go into it like any other series and just try to win one game at a time," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We have to take care of our business and win games. If they continue to win, it doesn't matter what we do. We just have to take care of business on our end and hope at some point they lose a few in a row and we can get back into [the race]."
Even though the Braves aren't getting great offensive production from the Upton brothers -- B.J. and Justin -- Zimmerman is not surprised to see the Braves in first place. Zimmerman pointed out that they have a great pitching staff.
"If you look at any team, including us last year, pitching is what wins," Zimmerman said. "I think Pittsburgh is showing you that right now. Any team that is 15, 20 games over .500, it's because they can pitch and play good defense. Obviously, hitting is a big part of the game, but you can get by with not scoring a lot of runs. You can't get by if you give up a lot of runs. The Braves pitch the ball well and their starters are good, their bullpen is one of the best in the league. They are a good team."
The Nationals have yet to go on a significant winning streak. It doesn't help that they are near the bottom in the NL offensively and defensively. The pitching staff has been solid. Entering Sunday's action, it has a 3.70 ERA, which ranks 11th in the Major Leagues.
"We haven't figured it out for longer than a week at a time," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "You don't want to say you are out of [winning the division] until you are mathematically eliminated. You are not going to give up on winning the division. But ... when you lose ground, it makes it harder. It's getting down to the point where [11 1/2] games are a lot. We do have some ball left, but 's going to take some really good ball."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less