It could have been a showdown, a dogfight between two teams salivating for the division crown.
Instead, when the Washington Nationals (54-57) host the Atlanta Braves (67-45) for a three-game set at Nationals Park, they will simply need to focus on not embarrassing themselves.
Failing to challenge the Braves in this series could potentially put the Nationals a season-high 15.5 games behind their rival, and sink them even further into the sub-.500 hole they have been scrambling to escape for most of the season.
Though the Nationals are not conceding the NL East to the Braves, first baseman Adam LaRoche acknowledged that their current 12.5-game deficit – the largest division lead in baseball – is a steep one to overcome.
"You are not going to give up on winning the division,” LaRoche said according to MLB.com. "But … when you lose ground, it makes it harder. It's getting down to the point where  games are a lot. We do have some ball left, but it's going to take some really good ball."
Since their six-game losing streak after the All-Star break, the Nationals have played some pretty good ball. But “pretty good” isn’t going to cut it against one of the most domineering teams in baseball. The Nationals are going to need to play their best.
The Braves have swept the St. Louis Cardinals, Colorado Rockies and Philadelphia Phillies to construct a 10-game winning streak. The Nationals will be tasked with trying to stop it, or else they run the risk of becoming just another team the Braves bowl over as they blaze through Major League Baseball.
During their streak, the Braves have averaged 6.6 runs per game, and limited their opponents to 2.5. In comparison, the Nationals have scored an average of 4.3 runs in their last ten games, and have allowed their opponents to score 4.6.
The Nationals will need to amp up the run production for this series, which will be no easy task against the Braves current best three starting pitchers. Fortunately for the Nats, they will counter with their top three pitchers as well, in Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann.
All the pieces are in place for the Nationals to put up their best fight against the Braves, aside from Jayson Werth being held from the lineup with a tweaked groin in the series opener.
Though Werth won’t be starting the first game of the series, he considers this is an all-important face-off for the Nationals, as they battle for the respect of a rival.
All statistics and predictions and rallying cries aside, Werth put it simply.
“We need to win.”
In The Zone
Jayson Werth (RF) .533 AVG, .579 OBP, .600 SLG, 1 SB (last five games)
Chris Johnson (3B) .433 AVG, .485 OBP, .600 SLG, 1 HR (last seven games)
Justin Upton (LF) .387 AVG, .472 OBP, .774 SLG, 3 HR (last seven games)
Dan Uggla (2B) .103 AVG, .235 OBP, .172 SLG, 9 SO (last seven games)
Evan Gattis (C) .125 AVG, .160 OBP, .125 SLG, 3 SO (last seven games)
8/5, Stephen Strasburg (5-9, 3.04 ERA, .211 BAA, 134 SO) vs. Mike Minor (11-5, 2.75 ERA, .220 BAA, 134 SO)
8/6, Gio Gonzalez (7-4, 3.57 ERA, .226 BAA, 139 SO) vs. Julio Teheran (8-5, 3.02 ERA, .257 BAA, 117 SO)
8/7, Jordan Zimmermann (13-6, 3.06 ERA, .231 BAA, 109 SO) vs. Kris Medlen (8-10, 3.85 ERA, .280 BAA, 102 SO)