The Nationals know that their odds of making the playoffs are mostly out of their control.
They cannot just play better baseball, as they have since the All-Star break, or draw particular significance from individual wins, like their 9-2 victory over the Marlins on Saturday. The Nationals also need help from the Reds, who hold an eight-game lead in the National League Wild Card race with 21 games remaining.
"I still think if we get on a little win streak here and win a bunch of games, anything can happen," manager Davey Johnson said. "But basically I'm going to put our best foot forward until we're mathematically eliminated."
If the Nationals are going to keep their fading playoff hopes alive, they cannot afford to waste another quality outing by Stephen Strasburg.
Strasburg is 5-4 in 16 quality starts this season. The Nationals have scored two runs or fewer in 16 of his 27 starts, including his last outing against the Phillies. The right-hander struck out 10 batters over six innings and allowed just one unearned run but didn't factor in the decision.
His counterpart, Jacob Turner, will face the Nationals for the first time this season. Since making his debut on May 31, Turner has a 3.13 ERA, which ranks 15th in the NL. The 22-year-old is 0-2 in his past six starts, and hasn't won since July 10.
The Marlins were beat easily Saturday night, but they are 4-2 in September and have scored 33 runs in their first six games of the month. Manager Mike Redmond has been pleased with his team's effort.
"We came out with great energy, and hopefully we can keep it going and finish strong," Redmond said. "That's the thing we've been focused on. These guys understand. They understand the situation. They know they are fighting for next year, and all the stuff that comes with September. They understand what's at stake, and that's good. They see we're evaluating what we have for next year. And we are getting to see what guys can do at certain positions. That's great."
Marlins: Pierre moves up all-time hit list
With a pinch-hit single in the sixth inning Saturday, Juan Pierre passed Hall of Famer Willie McCovey on the all-time hitting list. With 2,212 career hits, Pierre is tied with Joe Kuhel for 176th and is two shy of matching Joe DiMaggio.
"You look at the names," Redmond said. "You look at that stuff, for all of us who have been in this game for so long, it's remarkable. You look at him, and he's been so humble. What he's been able to do on the field is truly amazing."
• Redmond said he will not limit All-Star Jose Fernandez in his final scheduled start Wednesday. While the right-hander is only 4 1/3 innings shy of his team-imposed limit, the Marlins' skipper said that Fernandez could exceed that limit based on his performance.
"Jose is going to get a chance to pitch, and we're going to let him go out and try to win the ballgame," Redmond said. "I talked to him about it. Just like we did [Friday], we're going to let him go and try to win the ballgame."
Nationals: Harper, Span day to day
Bryce Harper was again scratched from the starting lineup on Saturday night as he continues to deal with hip soreness.
The All-Star has played sporadically over the past week, missing Wednesday's game in addition to Thursday's day off. He told Johnson before Friday's series opener that he was not 100 percent but still wanted to play.
While Harper was resting, center fielder Denard Span returned to the lineup Saturday. Span was scratched from Friday's game with tightness in his right groin but extended his career-best hitting streak to 18 games in the Nationals' 9-2 win.
• Ryan Zimmerman hit a pair of home runs Saturday night, giving him 19 jacks this season. In six September games, he already has more homers (four) than in April, June, July or August.
• Each of Strasburg's two starts against the Marlins have lasted just two innings.
• The Marlins have scored 3.26 runs per game this season, but only 2.71 in 14 games against the Nationals. Washington leads the season series, 10-4.
Tom Schad is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.