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Washington Nationals come out of the Break looking to make up ground in NL East...

It all starts this weekend with a three-game set against the NL East’s second-place Atlanta Braves in Washington, D.C.’s Nationals Park.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

“For me it’s not disappointing,” Davey Martinez told reporters in New York, when asked to sum up the Washington Nationals’ first 96 games of the 2018 campaign, over which they went 48-48, finishing the so-called first-half 5.5 game out in the NL East.

“People can say look at our record, the Nationals should be this, that, but I’m proud of the boys and this team. We went through some adversity and we utilized 40-something guys in the first few months, so to get that many guys in and out and try to focus on just playing every day, it’s tough. I credit these guys for being where we’re at right now and we’ve still got a lot of baseball left, so I think the second half is going to be a lot of fun.”

Martinez, in his role as Chicago’s bench coach last season, watched the Cubs, who went into the All-Star Break two games under .500 (43-45), go on a 49-25 second-half run that got them back into the postseason (after winning it all in 2016).

Did the first-year skipper see any parallels between the two teams (who met in the NLDS in October of ‘17, with the Cubs winning the series in five games)?

“There’s some similarities,” Martinez acknowledged.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

“And like I said, our focus now is to have these four days off, recoup and be ready to come back Friday and start fresh and start winning consistently, that’s the biggest thing. Get good starting pitching, our bullpen, really proud of the bullpen, I’ve asked them do some things and they’ve done them and our lineup is starting to get some length now, so I feel really good going into the second half.”

“The message to the boys is clear,” Martinez said. “We come back and just have some fun and enjoy the second half. I think these guys are ready to go, we’ll fare well.”

”We want to win the division, obviously,” Trea Turner said, after finishing a .267/.343/.402, 15 double, 11 HR, 22 stolen base, 2.8 fWAR first-half.

“We’re still definitely within reach of that. We’ve got a lot of baseball left. I think we all will agree we haven’t played our best baseball even over a week or two stretch. There’s been a couple times when we’ve swept some guys, but we’ve been fairly inconsistent. But to be six, seven games back isn’t the worst thing in the world. But the time is now. We’ve got to perform and get those wins in the second half.”

“I think that each team going into the end of first half sees opportunities that they missed and areas where they played really well,” Daniel Murphy told reporters.

Murphy, 33, returned from a knee injury, and surgery, to get 28 games in over the last month-plus, putting up a .253/.309/.333 line, four doubles, and a home run in 97 plate appearances, over which he was worth -0.5 fWAR.

“I think right now, you take stock of what you’ve done,” Murphy added.

“But the biggest thing is: You enjoy the four days [off]. My hat’s off to [Sean] Doolittle, [Max] Scherzer, and Bryce [Harper] for making the All-Star Game. That’s awesome. What an honor. I look forward to watching them with my son. But I think the biggest thing is: You take a step back, take a breath, so that when we come back we finish the second half sprinting through the finish line.”

The key to finishing strong and making a run in the second-half?

“The easy answer is more base hits, better defense,” Murphy said.

“But for me to put my finger on it, I think a willingness to engage, to grind out each pitch, try to win every single pitch on offense and defense. Hopefully at the end of the season, I’ll be a productive contributor to a team that is postseason bound.”

Martinez was asked what he thought Murphy needed to do to turn things up a notch in the next few months.

“For me it’s honestly just staying healthy,” he said.

“You can see he’s starting to come around a little bit and I watch him and about that third or fourth game he plays in a row, you can see he kind of slows down a little bit. So just keeping him fresh. He’s going to be there at the end when we need him, but I just want to keep him fresh.”

Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg are expected to return to the Nationals today for the start of their three-game set with the NL East’s second place Atlanta Braves.

How big a series is this weekend’s matchup in their minds?

“We put ourselves in a position that every game that we play is big,” GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday, “but to play division rivals that are directly ahead of you, we’ve got a bunch of games with both Philly and Atlanta and we’re looking forward to that. So, I think that whenever you can take matters into your own hands and whittle off games by playing the teams directly in front of you [those] are very, very important games, but like I said we’ve put ourselves in a position that every game we play is important no matter who we’re playing and I often say it’s not who you play it’s when you play them, who’s hot when you play them and we need to get hot and go on a little run here and beat the teams that are in the standings ahead of us and we’ve got an opportunity this weekend.”

“But let’s not sugarcoat it,” Rizzo added at another point in his weekly visit with the Junkies, “... we’ve got to play better baseball than we’ve been playing. We have not been playing baseball that’s good enough to win the National League East championship, and we’ve got to play better baseball, and hopefully as guys get their at bats like a Murph and [Adam] Eaton, and when Zim gets back, we can get a little synergy in the lineup and get a little rhythm in the lineup and have our starters go deep into games like they did in April and May and go on a 20-7 run like we did in May.”

Since the end of May, however, the Nationals are 15-25. In March/April they went 13-16. That is how they got here. They have 66 games to turn it around.