Washington Nationals: The Dodgers are within reach

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 08: Michael Taylor /

A slump by the Los Angeles Dodgers gives the Washington Nationals a chance to earn the NL-best record. What does it mean?

Unlikely a week ago, the Washington Nationals have a chance to catch the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the National League.

Swept in two series over the last few days by the surging Arizona Diamondbacks, the Dodgers lead over the Nats is five games, down from 13 two weeks ago. If both teams play at their current pace, Washington would hold home field advantage through the World Series.

Although hosting a potential World Series Game 1 in DC is awesome, the Nats would now face the NL Wild Card game winner in the NL Divisional Series. Normally, that is ideal. This year, it is probably those same steamrolling Diamondbacks.

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In a best-of-five, the hotter team is the favorite. The Diamondbacks are a dictionary definition of that. Ten back of the Dodgers in the NL West, the chances of reeling in Los Angeles is slim. Fellow rival Colorado holds a three-game bulge over the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals for the second Wild Card spot.

The Rockies trail the Snakes by six. Arizona has the best chance to host the Wild Card game. Hopefully, Major League Baseball will force Maricopa County officials to fix the dead grass at Chase Field.

The Chicago Cubs still lead the NL Central. If the season ended today, it would be the Cubs/Nats in one NLDS with the Dodgers playing the Wild Card in the other.

Although Arizona has a better record than Chicago, a Wild Card cannot be a top-3 seed. The division winners will fill those by record with the actual wild card earning the fourth seed If the Nats pass the Dodgers and everything else remains static, Washington would face the third best record with Arizona while the Dodgers/Cubs match the second and fourth.

Winning the division while facing holds a significant advantage. Arizona must burn their best pitcher to win the NLWCG. The chances of Robbie Ray facing Max Scherzer in Game 1 are slim. If the D-Backs clinch a playoff berth early, they can set up their rotation as needed, but whoever pitches the Wild Card Game is not throwing in DC early. Advantage Nats.

With Washington’s division coronation expected during this homestand, manager Dusty Baker finds himself with a dilemma. Do they play all out and hope to pass the Dodgers? Remember, they hook up in Washington next weekend. Or, does he continue to give players extended rest before October?

On paper, the Cubs are a better matchup, but the Rockies or others could upset Arizona in a one-game duel in the desert.

Next: Injuries mess with outfield depth

Whatever happens, it is a nice problem to have.