The Washington Nationals are red hot right now, heading into possibly their most significant series of the season. The Nats, who have won 7 of their last 10, and are a sizzling 26-12 since the All-Star break, begin a three-game series Monday night against a Braves team that trails Washington in the NL East by just 5 games. The Nats either have the potential to gain a commanding 8-game division lead over their opponents with a series sweep, or the potential to fall into a downward spiral with a 3-game losing streak, which would see their lead slip to just 2 games over Atlanta.

If Washington wants to ensure they stay on the winning side of the series, they will have to rely heavily on closing pitcher Tyler Clippard, who joined Holden Kushner on 106.7 The Fan to talk about the potential for a huge division swing, and what the experience has been like chasing a pennant for the first time since arriving in D.C.

Clippard, who has posted 27 saves in 2012 in the absence of team closer (and roommate) Drew Storen, has contributed to a team victory in the last 10 appearances he’s made out of the bullpen, which has certainly contributed to the Nationals maintaining themselves as the best team in baseball since the mid-summer classic. A confident Clippard told Holden they just look forward to the opportunity to “get a little separation” between them and Atlanta.

“It’s going to be a lot more enjoyable to actually have control over whether they win or not. It seems like every night we’re watching the scoreboard seeing if they’re winning or losing and now we can just go out there and take care of business ourselves.”

Tyler was asked what kind of a battle it is stepping up on the mound and staring down at a legendary hitter like Chipper Jones, who says he plans to hang up the cleats after this season.

“He’s incredible. He’s got unbelievable strength in judgment. You can’t really throw him the same pitch twice – he’s going to crush it if you do. A lot of what makes him so great is, he really wants to win, and this is his final season so he’s hungry. I think that’s what’s making him even better this year.”

Chipper has discovered the fountain of youth in his final season – he’s currently hitting .313 with 13 homers and 54 runs-batted-in.

One of the less surprising revelations this season came when Mike Rizzo announced he still plans to shut down Stephen Strasburg once he reaches an innings count predetermined by the GM himself. Players have noticeably been getting agitated by the repeated questions: Did you know? How does him being shut down make you feel? Have you talked to him about it? Regardless, Tyler handled being asked about Strasburg in stride, suggesting the team will be just fine in the postseason without their Ace.

“We don’t really even talk about it. We’re confident as heck as far as what Riz has in store for the team. We have tremendous depth. We have a guy who was one of our best pitchers over the last four years in Triple A. That’s how good our staff is. I know our staff is grinding away and we’re not really worried about it too much to be honest with you.”


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