The Nationals are not likely to catch the Braves in the National League East, but they're still fighting for a Wild Card spot with a month left in the season. Washington hasn't made that goal any more of a reality in the first two games of this weekend's series against the Mets, but the club will look to salvage at least one game in the finale on Sunday night at Nationals Park.
After sweeping the Marlins, Washington dropped a heartbreaker to the Mets on Friday and lost, 11-3, on Saturday. Although the Nationals would like to win every game as they chase a playoff berth, they know the last 27 games of the season will be more about battling back and moving forward.
"We've been playing really good baseball lately, and these games are going to show up," said bench coach Randy Knorr. "We can't expect to go out and win the last 30 games. Somebody's going to stop us one day, and we've just got to pick it up and go after it again."
On Sunday, the Nationals will turn to right-hander Ross Ohlendorf as they work on making up a 7 1/2-game deficit to the Reds for the NL's second Wild Card spot. Ohlendorf retired the first nine batters he faced on Tuesday against the Marlins and went on to give up just one run on three hits and a walk in five innings. He pitched into the sixth but gave up a home run and was pulled.
Following the start, manager Davey Johnson contemplated putting Ohlendorf back in the bullpen, especially after his velocity dropped 10 mph in the sixth inning, but he decided to stick with the 31-year-old right-hander for Sunday's start against the Mets. However, it could be his last before the Nationals give Tanner Roark a shot in the No. 5 spot in the rotation.
Meanwhile, New York will lean on Jon Niese to try to pick up the three-game sweep. Niese enters his 19th start of the season coming off the second shutout of his career on Tuesday, when he held the Phillies to just three hits. Since coming off the disabled list on Aug. 11, Niese has made four starts, going 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA.
Although the Mets face double-digit deficits in the NL East and the Wild Card races, seeing the 26-year-old lefty perform like he has of late is exciting for manager Terry Collins.
"It gives you big hope," Collins said. "We had huge expectations in the beginning of the season for Jon Niese."
Sunday will mark Niese's first start of the season against Washington, but he's gone 3-0 with a 2.37 ERA in his six previous career starts vs. the Nationals.
Mets: Davis strains oblique
The Mets might be without the services of first baseman Ike Davis for the foreseeable future after he exited Saturday's game with a strained right oblique. He sustained the injury in the third inning, when he hit a sacrifice fly and then grabbed his right side. He didn't come back to the field for the bottom of the inning, as he was replaced by Lucas Duda.
Since the All-Star break, Davis has built a .453 on-base percentage. In the last 13 games, Davis has hit three of his nine home runs, and Collins said before Saturday's game he was happy with his improvements at the plate since coming back from a Minor League stint in early July.
"He went down and worked on his plate discipline and he's gotten on base," Collins said. "One of the things, obviously, that I think has somewhat happened is I don't think he's gotten many pitches to hit. Everyone still knows he's very dangerous when he goes up there, and I think they're very careful with him. He's been good enough that he's taken the walks. He hasn't tried to go outside the zone and do anything. He's just said, 'If you're not gonna pitch to me, I'm gonna get on.' I think that's a really good sign."
Nationals: Harper's knee could still be problematic
Bryce Harper took criticism from Knorr and Johnson after not sprinting down the line on a routine ground ball on Friday night. Johnson, though, admitted that the left knee that kept Harper out of action for all of June might still be bothering him and could be a factor in his play.
"I think it's still an issue. I think it's probably there," Johnson said. "He can probably play with it, but if he headfirst slides or dives in the outfield, it's probably going to flare up. But hopefully, he'll get through the season."
Harper on Saturday made his 50th start in the last 54 games since returning from bursitis in his left knee, and Johnson doesn't think a lack of effort is something he needs to be overly concerned about with the 20-year-old outfielder.
"I haven't seen a lot of it," Johnson said. "I've seen a little of it. I don't know what's going through his mind. I'll have a conversation."
• With a 3-for-5 performance on Saturday, the Nationals' Denard Span extended his career-high hitting streak to 14 games.
• After Sunday's 8:05 p.m. ET start, the Mets travel to Atlanta for a matchup with the Braves at 1:10 p.m. on Monday.
• The Mets and Nationals are an even 7-7 entering the 15th game of the season series between the two teams.
Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.