The Nationals and Dodgers entered the All-Star break as teams heading in opposite directions. After falling 12 games below .500 on June 21, the Dodgers have won 17 of their last 22 games.
"I was really proud of the way they have persevered. We've been through a lot," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "They've hung together and we've put ourselves in a good position. But we're not there yet. It's going to be a short second half. We've got to be ready to play."
The Nationals, meanwhile, won just one game in each of their series against the Phillies and Marlins, and have lost five of their past seven games. But after a 5-2 extra-innings win on Sunday, they were able to enter the All-Star break on a bright note.
"It's always important to get a win before the break," said left fielder Bryce Harper. "We have the Dodgers [to start the second half]. I don't think anyone is looking forward to that. We have four days off, and it would be good for everybody to clear their minds, get ready for that second half. We are excited to get going. We'll try to get to first place."
The Nationals began this season with World Series aspirations. But after a disappointing first half, they will look to start from scratch against the Dodgers on Friday in their first game after the All-Star break.
As the team tries to start its season anew, Washington will coincidentally face the same pitcher that it beat on Opening Day: Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco, who received the loss on April 1 while pitching for the Marlins, was traded to Los Angeles on July 6.
The right-hander is very comfortable at Nationals Park, where he is 4-2 with a 2.32 ERA in seven career starts.
The Nationals will counter with right-hander Stephen Strasburg, who was in many ways having the best season of his career until an abysmal outing last week. He allowed seven runs in just two innings of work -- the shortest outing of the 24-year-old's career.
No Dodgers team has ever trailed by as many as 9 1/2 games and finished in first place, so this club knows it has a tough road ahead.
"It really is a short second half, and it doesn't start in an easy manner," Mattingly said. "We go through the Nationals, a club that needs to get on a roll themselves. Then we go to Toronto, a team we know is full of talent. So it's not an easy start for us in the second half."
Dodgers: Kemp eyes return after break
Matt Kemp expects to return from the disabled list on the first day he is eligible on July 21. He irritated the AC joint in his left shoulder on a swing in his first at-bat on July 5, and left the game after two innings.
Mattingly said Kemp will start swinging a bat this week and then go a brief rehab assignment after the All-Star break.
"I would think we would want him to play something," Mattingly said. "He probably should. I would think a few games would be good from our standpoint to make sure that he's healthy."
• The All-Star break came at the right time for outfielders Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford, both of whom have tried to overcome nagging injuries.
Puig was held out of the starting lineup on Sunday with a sore hip, but he entered the game in the bottom of the fifth inning and went 1-for-3 at the plate. Crawford pinch-hit in the ninth inning on Sunday after not starting for a fifth straight game with a sore back.
Nationals: Will Johnson's lineup shuffle stick?
After his team scored just four runs in its first two games against the Marlins, Nationals manager Davey Johnson decided to shake up the lineup for Sunday's series finale.
He moved regular No. 3 hitter Harper into the leadoff spot, bumped Anthony Rendon to No. 2 and dropped Denard Span to seventh in the order. Johnson justified the moves as an effort to get more at-bats for hitters with higher on-base percentages. He also wanted to take some of the pressure off Span, who is hitting more than 20 points below his career batting average.
"I like doing it," Harper said of batting first. "I would be pretty comfortable out there. I got a pretty good pitch to hit in the first AB -- fastball right down the middle. It was a good day. I liked it."
The Nationals collected 14 hits and scored five runs with their new-look lineup on Sunday, but Johnson didn't say whether he would stick with this order after the All-Star break.
• The Nationals are 43-11 (.796) this season when scoring three or more runs, as they did on Sunday. When they score two or fewer, they are just 5-36 (.122).
• The Nationals scored just seven runs in three games against the Dodgers in May, the third-fewest runs they've scored against any one team this season. Washington was limited to four runs in three games by both the Cardinals and Giants.
• Nolasco and Strasburg have received some of the worst run support in the National League this season. Strasburg's support has been the third worst in the NL (2.94 runs per game), while Nolasco's has been the fourth worst (3.05).
Tom Schad is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.