Just like the janitor who masqueraded as “The Phantom” in that Scooby Doo mystery, the Nats were this close to scaring away the rest of the NL East from the warehouse (underneath the division was a diamond mine, believe it or not) area and selling off 2015.  Philadelphia?  The Fightin’ Phils became the Fire Sale Phils by jettisoning Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon and Ben Revere.  Miami?  the Marlins have been playing for 2016 since May…although some think they’re actually playing for 2017.  Atlanta?  The Braves new world is now 11 games under .500 after getting swept by the Phillies.  All the Nats needed was for the Mets to revert to form after a surprising start. But just like kidnapping Daphne is no way to get rid of the Mystery Machine gang, the Nationals took a sluggish lineup and shaky bullpen into Queens last weekend and the ill-fitting Phantom mask came off.  Two walk-off losses and one rough hiccup by Jordan Zimmermann (3 HR allowed in 5 pitches) later, we have a virtual tie for first place in the NL East.  Matt Williams and company would have gotten away with the division, if it weren’t for those meddling Mets and their pitching.  Be ready for a scrappy final two months (nothing good happens when Scrappy is in the equation).

Dealing at the Deadline– the Nats were looking for a bridge to closer Drew Storen and couldn’t find a setup man for the right price.  Instead they made Storen the bridge and brought in Jonathan Papelbon.  The closer with crazy eyes had 17 saves for the Phillies in limited opportunities…but brings a stellar postseason record to DC.  As long as Storen is cool with being moved out of a role he’s earned for the third time in four years…and Doug Fister gets used to pitching with #33 on his back as opposed to #58.  I hope he got something cool from Papelbon to change numbers…

The Boys are Back in Town– one reason why the Nats stood pat on adding a bat before the deadline was the knowledge that they had multiple players coming off the disabled list.  Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth rejoined the Nats Tuesday in Miami.  While the duo is currently hitting .205 (9-44 with 2 walks and 14 strikeouts) since their return, one would imagine each would eventually find their pre-injury groove.  Now all they need is Span and Strasburg to return…

Dissecting the Division– the Mets after losing 18 of their last 21 home games to the Nats find themselves percentage points out of first place.  The team that won’t go away is staying in the conversation thanks to a pitching staff that ranks 3rd in the Majors in ERA and 1st in Quality Starts.  Now that they’ve added a big bat in Yoesnis Cespedes, watch out world!  This week the Mets head to the sunshine state for series against Miami and Tampa Bay.  The Marlins and Rays are both entering that “thank goodness for NFL Training Camps” mode to their seasons, as both are under .500 entering the dog days of summer.

Division of Rings– only one quartet out of the six in MLB can claim that every team has won the World Series…the AL Central.  Now, only one team (Chicago White Sox-2005) can boast a title in the last 20 years and Cleveland boasts the longest drought in the AL…but this has to be something to hang your hats on, right?  Kansas City (1985) owns the best record in the American League, and pulled off a few at the wire deals to bolster an already-strong roster (just imagine how many All-Stars they’d have now!).  Minnesota (1991) is in the middle of the Wildcard mix -owning a 1-game lead over the Orioles for the 2nd WC spot.  Detroit (1984), the White Sox (don’t forget 1917 either) and Cleveland (1948) are all on the outside looking in.  Watch Major League, boys and girls...

Last Week’s Heroes– Bryce Harper belted two homers in Miami Wednesday to take the NL lead with 29 round-trippers…while hitting .348 with a team-high 8 runs scored.  Anthony Rendon in his first full week off the DL batted .292 with 7 runs scored.  Max Scherzer provided another stellar start, scattering 3 hits while striking out 6 over 7 scoreless innings in a matinee against the Marlins.  In a world where starters rack up no-decisions with numbing regularity, Scherzer has 19 decisions in 21 starts.  That is what an Ace does…

Last Week’s Humbled– Wilson Ramos went hitless in 11 at-bats…and is batting .083 since the All Star Break with no walks and 13 strikeouts.  This from a guy who was hitting 4th and 5th for much of the first half of the season.  Ian Desmond also had a rough week (.130, one walk and 11 strikeouts) after hitting .478 the week before.  Thank goodness the Nats are healthy enough that these guys are hitting 6th and 7th… instead of 2nd and 4th.  Jordan Zimmermann went 0-2 last week…suffering a stretch Sunday where he allowed 3 homers over a 5 pitch span (the 4th pitch yielded a single).  Ouch…

Game to Watch– Max Scherzer pitches Tuesday against the team that drafted him…Arizona.  The Diamondbacks trot out Patrick Corbin, who won his last start while striking out 10 in the outing before that.  Get some popcorn…

Game to Miss– Saturday Doug Fister pitches against Colorado’s Yohan Flande.  While I was able to muster excitement for the Fister-Wistler duel, Fister-Flande just doesn’t carry the same mustard (the 29 year old is making his third start of the season after being a bullpen mainstay before the All Star Break).  Even the “58 meets 58” angle is lost thanks to Fister switching to #33.  It’s the final month before football season.  Enjoy a Saturday at Chateau O’Brien off Exit 18 on I-66.  Say hi to the best pourer in Northern Virginia, Irrational Marc (not to be confused with Winesnob Marc).

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