The Washington Times - July 11, 2013, 11:29PM

PHILADELPHIA — At some point in the wee hours of Friday morning, the Washington Nationals team plane will land in Miami and all that will separate them from the ceremonial end to the first half of their season will be three games with the Miami Marlins. 

A 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies left the Nationals walking away from Citizens Bank Park lamenting the opportunities missed. In a four-game series with the Phillies the Nationals lost three and scored 10 total runs. Thursday night, they offered little support to Jordan Zimmerman as they could not score more than once for the 24th time this season. They are 1-23 in those games.

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“I love my team,” manager Davey Johnson said as he tried to digest falling back to two games above .500 with three to play before baseball’s only multi-day break. “We just, sometimes, haven’t been able to put consistent efforts forth.

“It’s a long way to go. A lot of guys are getting where they need to be, just a tough ballgame. All these games here were tough. Just a little break here and there, we could’ve won three of four. But I like the way guys are grinding. We’re going to be fine.”

There are 70 games remaining in the Nationals season, a substantial chunk for them to prove that their tap dance around .500, the mark of mediocrity, in the season’s first half was just the storm they had to weather to reach their full potential.

They’re fortunate to play in a division where they remain in second place, in spite of their struggles, and well within striking distance of the first-place Atlanta Braves, who hold a six-game lead. 

Three games in Miami may not mean much in the scheme of their season, but there’s a big difference between entering the All-Star break five games over .500 and entering it one game under. 

“Pretty much no matter what we do in Miami, three games isn’t going to make up for what we’ve done the first half of this season, standings-wise,” said shortstop Ian Desmond.

“But we have continued to get better, and regardless of what we do in Miami, we still believe in ourselves and we believe that we’re moving in the right direction. (It’s) obviously not as fast as we’d like but we think we still have the support of our city, and we’ve got the support of each other in here. That’s pretty much all that matters.”

The Phillies made four errors on Thursday night, though one came on a dropped foul pop up that became irrelevant moments later and two happened on the same play. Still, with Kyle Kendrick allowing them just five hits and walking one, the Nationals didn’t take advantage of a single one and translate it into runs. 

“Five hits in nine innings, that’s not too good,” Johnson said. “We’re much more capable than that.” 

Bryce Harper appeared to score on a base hit to left field by Jayson Werth in the first inning, but Harper was called out by home plate umpire Kerwin Danley and the Nationals squandered every opportunity they had until Harper tripled with one out in the sixth.

Ryan Zimmerman’s sacrifice fly brought him home to tie the game, but the Nationals, who left five runners on base, were done producing runs for the night.

“Obviously frustrating,” said right fielder Jayson Werth. “Winnable game. We just didn’t put up any runs.”

“You can’t really look at tonight and dwell on it,” Harper said. “You’ve just got to look to tomorrow, to the Marlins, and try to win that series.” 

As they packed in relative silence in the visitors’ clubhouse they were, as Harper said, left to turn their eyes toward the Marlins, who are 19-17 since the start of June after winning just 14 games in the season’s first two months. 

“We need to finish up strong so we can go into the break,” said center fielder Denard Span, who had a difficult night at the plate, grounding into two double plays — the first of which came on a bunt that bounced off the plate and he assumed went foul. “It’s been an up-and-down first half and to end it off with a series win might be just big for us to go into the break with.

“(But) I think we just need to hit the reset button in general, whether we win three out of three or get swept by them. We need to reset regardless.”