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“Winning this series makes (winning the division) more realistic,” Heyward said. “Our mindset is to go after the division until you can’t.”

But the Nationals have a chance to squash those plans a bit more Sunday night. They have a chance to leave Atlanta with little harm done to their lead in the division and to put two taught, tense games behind them. They have Gio Gonzalez going for this 20th win on a night when they need it.

“You don’t want to get swept anywhere, especially against the team behind you,” LaRoche said, his 30th home run of the season giving the Nationals a two-run lead in the first and a calamitous second inning by the Braves giving them two more in the second before their offense went silent. They gave all those runs back. They could only move forward.

“It’s a big game,” LaRoche continued. “I think they’re all pretty big from here on out, but we’ve got a chance to really gain some ground against these guys. Had two close ones, lost ‘em. Come out tomorrow, hopefully take one.”