Talk about coming back with a bang.  The Nationals returned from the All Star break by facing the Los Angeles Dodgers in a duel of division leaders, and in a potential playoff preview (the two teams would face off in the NLDS if the regular season ended today) to boot.  But it was the visitors who hung two stellar starts on the Nats…as Clayton Kershaw (14 strikeouts over 8 scoreless innings) and Zach Greinke (11K’s over 8 shutout frames) mowed down the home team in the DC heat with a little heat of their own.  Not the way one wants to come off the midseason hiatus.  Especially with the second place New York Mets and wildcard leader Pittsburgh on the horizon.  The trip to Miami can’t come soon enough…

She Wears Short Skirts– Max Scherzer wasn’t pitching on the mound Friday, but he may be onto something when he jokingly tweeted that the ballpark amazingly had electrical issues in the first event following Taylor Swift’s concert.  I mean– what is the track record of this songstress?  “You Belong With Me” is the blueprint for passive-aggressively stealing another girl’s boyfriend.  And Swift’s reliance of singing about ex-boyfriends is akin to “Three’s Company” episodes being about misunderstandings– we get it.  Does this make Scherzer a hater?

Getting the Blues from Dodger Pitching– now that was a one-two punch.  Back to back uppercuts.  The one-two combo that many expected when the Nationals inked Max Scherzer.  Sadly Stephen Strasburg has yet to find the form that led the NL in strikeouts last year, but Jordan Zimmermann has posted a 1.92 ERA over his last five starts.  Will we see Scherzer and Zimmermann against Kershaw and Greinke during the August 10-12 series out west?

Digssecting the Division– the New York Mets after their 18-inning victory over St. Louis move within 2 games of the Nats.  The pesky fly that just won’t go away comes to DC this week for a three game series.  They couldn’t actually leave the district with the division lead, could they?  Many didn’t expect the Mets to be in the mix this late in the season.  Atlanta shifts from contender to pretender after losing 7 of their last 10…while Miami and Philadelphia look forward to the upcoming NFL season.  Knowing the recent fun the Dolphins and Eagles have provided, perhaps they shouldn’t.

Division to Watch– the Dodgers are the team to beat in the NL West…and second place San Francisco is the perfect foil.  There’s enough dislike between the longtime rivals to fuel any fire…and the combination of the Dodgers cruising to division last year only to see the Giants get hot in the postseason and take the World Series only turns things up a tiny bit.  The Giants have also taken 9 of 12 games against LA this year…with Madison Bumgarner not only getting the better of Clayton Kershaw twice but also homering off the reigning Cy Young winner.  It’s a shame they play only seven times between now and the end of the regular season.  Who cares if the rest of the West quintet is seriously off-key?

Last Week’s Hero– Yunel Escobar had the best OPS (1.154) of the regulars over the weekend…and the fact that he stepped into the leadoff position underscores his value.  Just like one wonders where the outfield would be minus Michael A. Taylor’s ability to patrol left and center this year, last winter’s pickup of Escobar has helped salvage what could have been a very rough season for the infield.

Last Week’s Humbled– Doug Fister won 16 games last season.  Unfortunately, he’s had one rough 2015.  Saturday Fister coughed up 4 runs over 5 innings…and he’s 0-2 with a 4.67 ERA over his last three starts.  In his last six outings, Fister’s allowed 4 or more runs four times.

Game to Watch– with the caveat that every Max Scherzer start is an automatic watch, I’m intrigued by Tuesday’s tilt with the New York Mets.  ESPN.COM has Joe Ross pitching for the Nationals against Jacob de Grom (9-6, 2.14 ERA).  Ross’s improvement over his first three major league starts last month sets the bar high for this week…can the kid continue to deliver?

Game to Miss–  Thursday the Nats begin a four game series in Pittsburgh… and the least appealing pitching matchup has Doug Fister (3-5, 4.30 ERA) against Francisco Liriano (5-6, 2.98 ERA).  Perfect time to check out the bridges that span the three rivers…

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