By ALAN FERGUSON
(AP) -- While the Washington Nationals are closing in on the franchise's first playoff berth since 1981, their next opponent is still locked in a competitive race for one.
The Los Angeles Dodgers will seek to get into position for one of the NL's wild-card spots during a three-game series at Nationals Park that begins Tuesday night.
Washington's magic number for securing a spot in the postseason is three, and the Nationals (89-57) also hold a sizable lead in the NL East. However, they missed a chance this weekend to make a large stride toward a division title by dropping all three games at second-place Atlanta.
"We're fine. We've put ourselves in a good position," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman told the team's official website. "We've played well all year. There's two weeks left of playing baseball. Everything's right in front of us."
The Nationals will try to get in an even better position by snapping a five-game skid to Los Angeles (76-71). They were swept over three games at Dodger Stadium from April 27-29 and have lost nine of the past 11 matchups.
The Dodgers trail St. Louis by one game for the second wild-card berth and blew an opportunity to take a lead in that race with a 5-2 loss in 12 innings to the Cardinals on Sunday.
"We've got a great chance of being there right at the end," center fielder Matt Kemp said. "We're going to be in every game and fight to the end, no matter who we play. We've got a tough road trip coming up, and we'll see what happens. We've got to turn the page and get ready for Washington."
Los Angeles has the added challenge of facing a pair of division leaders during a nine-game trip, while St. Louis will play its next nine against sub-.500 opponents.
Aaron Harang (9-9, 3.79 ERA) will try to help the Dodgers start their trek in positive fashion by adding to his string of solid outings. The veteran right-hander has allowed three runs or fewer in seven consecutive starts but is 0-2 over his last four.
He took the loss in Wednesday's 3-2 defeat in Arizona after giving up three runs and four hits over 5 2-3 innings.
Harang is 1-2 with a 3.89 ERA in seven starts against the Nationals franchise, earning the win in his most recent matchup June 9, 2011.
His counterpart Tuesday, Jordan Zimmermann (10-8, 3.01), is facing the Dodgers for the first time since May 7, 2009.
The right-hander has given up two runs in each of his last two starts but did not get a decision in a 5-3 victory over New York last Tuesday.
Zimmermann likely won't have Danny Espinosa to help him out. The second baseman is expected to miss this series because of a sore left shoulder.
Michael Morse sat out the series against Atlanta with an injured left wrist but could start Tuesday if he can participate in batting practice before the game.
The Dodgers are expecting to get Kenley Jansen and Scott Elbert back in the bullpen this week. Jansen hasn't pitched since Aug. 27 due to an irregular heartbeat while Elbert went on the disabled list Aug. 29 with inflammation in his pitching elbow.
Updated September 17, 2012