WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- The Atlanta Braves have gone 17-25 in Washington D.C. since Nationals Park opened in 2008, and an even less compelling 4-8 against the Nats this season.
Monday's showdown at the Navy Yard will be pressure packed but mostly on the Braves. Even with the fifth best record in baseball, Atlanta trails the Nationals by five games in the standings.
Washington (75-46) has enjoyed feasting on the Braves and they aren't scared to admit it.
"They know full well -- I think it goes back to [last] July and August -- we play them pretty good," Nats skipper Davey Johnson told reporters on Sunday. "They need to prove something to themselves when they come in here."
Even if somehow the Braves are able to topple Jordan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg and the ever-so sneaky Ross Detwiler (3.25 ERA), Atlanta would still leave Washington trailing by two games in the standings. And three of the Nationals four upcoming opponents -- the Phillies, Marlins and Cubs -- have saluted the white flag and have surrendered on the 2012 season.
"Any one of our five guys, I'd be fine with," smiled Ryan Zimmerman on Sunday when talking about the Nationals heralded rotation. "Just have to go in and treat it like any other series, like we've done all year.
One cause for concern: Washington severely underperformed in its previous "biggest series" of the season -- a matchup the team will admit it didn't treat like any other. The Yankees swept Washington in the middle of June with relative ease. Since the all-star break, Atlanta (70-51) has only lost two of the 11 series they have played. Right now the Braves are clicking on all cylinders.
"Is [our lead] comfortable? Yeah, we have a great team," said infielder Danny Espinosa. "But the Braves have been playing unbelievable baseball as well. It's not going to be an easy three games. It's definitely going to be a dogfight."
"I don't think there needs to be any push for this group here," Johnson said. He later added, "They know us and we know them."
*Atlanta has only been caught stealing on 18 of their 95 attempts. A glaring weakness for the Nationals has been the team's inability to throw out base runners. While Atlanta isn't necessarily a blazing fast team, they have players capable of chalking up bases during the series.
*"Bullpen has been our key. These guys have come in and cleaned all our messes," Gio Gonzalez said following the game Sunday. Gonzalez is spot on. The Nats are second in the MLB with 78 holds by relievers, and closer Tyler Clippard has converted 12 of his 13 save opportunities.
*Jayson Werth has been a catalyst for the success in July. I explain why he's become the most respected player on the team.