The July 4th as well as 81-game benchmarks pass and the Nationals are in first place of the NL East.  Are we printing playoff tickets?  While there are those that will throw out the “63.8% of teams with a lead over 4 games on Independence Day…” postulate, it’s encouraging that this club bounced back from a rough series loss to Atlanta (IT WAS FOUL!  IT WAS FOUL!) to sweep the defending World Series champs.  And not just sweep but outscore the Giants 14-5.  Gems by Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann sandwiched Saturday’s hit parade that featured first inning fireworks from Michael Taylor (leadoff home run) and Bryce Harper (2-run HR with a patriotic bat).  Sadly like any picnic that features incredible hamburgers and fantastic hot dogs, there was seven layer dip that spoiled in the sun:  Stephen Strasburg heads back to the Disabled List with a strained oblique.  Rinse and repeat…

Dissecting the Division– the New York Mets begin this week 4 and a half games behind the Nats…and visit San Francisco before coming home for three games with Arizona.  Both teams are hovering around the .500 mark.  Atlanta’s 6 games off the pace– with the opportunity to make up ground.  The Braves final seven games before the All Star Break may be on the road…but they’re against last place teams Milwaukee and Colorado.  Miami and Philadelphia? Enjoy the sushi and cheesesteaks…

Division to Watch– just up I-95 the AL East is tighter than a Tom Jones jumpsuit.  Two games separate the top four teams (sorry, Boston) with the Orioles, Tampa Bay, New York Yankees and Toronto all showing possibilities and limitations on a nightly basis.  Can this rollercoaster race sustain itself over the dog days of summer?  It’s not unusual to have a race this close…

Last Week’s Hero– while Bryce Harper continues his monster season (1.137 OPS), Clint Robinson led the team with 2 HR and 4RBI.  His homer Friday night was the difference.  Robinson’s also walking (13-10 BB to K ratio over the last 30 games).  With at bats available in the absence of Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman, he’s made the most of his opportunities in the outfield and at first base.

Last Week’s Humbled– Calvin Coolidge is the new racing President?  Okay, I know he was the Chief Executive when the Senators won the World Series…but seriously.  His second most famous quote (after “the business of America is business”) was “I do not choose to run”.  Worse than the 300-pound William Howard Taft huffing and puffing in the outfield we now have a man known for saying little and running less.  Plus the mascot looks more like Coolidge’s predecessor, Warren G. Harding.  Nothing like the Teapot Dome Scandal to ruin the middle of the 4th inning…

Game to Watch– Saturday in Baltimore Jordan Zimmermann pitches against Miguel Gonzalez.  Two 7-5 pitchers who are both coming off solid starts.  A chance for whichever team won Friday night to lock up the series…so their fans can taunt the other team’s faithful all day Sunday.  Crab cakes with extra Old Bay.  Bring it, hon…

Game to Miss– By default, one of the games with Cincinnati.  Monday‘s matchup between  Doug Fister and Anthony DeSclafani is less than compelling…and there’s an interesting reading at Politics and Prose.  Harvard Professor James Wood discusses his recent work, “The Nearest Thing to Life”, which “explores the beauty and the power of the art of reading”.  Here’s your chance to be well-rounded, kids…

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