So much for a seven game homestand against the NL West underbelly.  The Nationals went 3-4 against Arizona and Colorado…slipping a game and a half behind the streaking New York Mets in the NL East.  There were hitting and pitching issues…as well as starting and relief shortcomings.  For those with the “we can always compete for the wildcard if we don’t win the division” mindset, here’s the tough truth:  the Nationals are further behind the Chicago Cubs (5 games) for the NL’s final playoff spot– and they would have to leap over defending champ San Francisco as well to do so.  West coast roadtrips can make or break a team– especially in the dog days of August.  Will the Nats return to DC next week rejuvenated or roasted?

Dissecting the Division– the Mets lost one-run games Saturday and Sunday in Tampa Bay…but still emerge from the weekend with a minor cushion.  The little team that could has a slight advantage over the rest of the season schedulewise…playing 37 of its final 51 games of the season against clubs with losing records (the Nats have 33 of their final 52 against losing clubs). The Mets begin a four-game series with Colorado.  Time to panic?  

Division Deemed Dangerous– the New York Yankees are riding the resurgence of Mark Teixiera and Alex Rodriguez…but gaining ground on the Pinstripes is red-hot Toronto. Seven straight wins narrows the AL East lead to a game and a half…and the Blue Jays own the best run differential (+129) in the majors.  Eventually one would believe the numbers would shake out between the Jays and Yanks.  Time is running out on the Orioles (5 back, 3 games off the wildcard pace) and Tampa Bay (6 and 4).  Boston is looking ahead to 2016…thankful they don’t have to deal with the 2024 Olympic bid.

Last Week’s Hero– Stephen Strasburg came off the Disabled List Saturday to pitch for a team reeling from a crushing come-from-ahead loss.  The oft-injured righthander delivered a gem– striking out 12 over 7 innings.  He allowed 3 hits but notched 3 of his own.  Strasburg’s first win since June 28th couldn’t have come at a better time.  Now if he can only stay healthy…

Last Week’s Humbled– Drew Storen has pitched well this season…but stumbled into one rough weekend against Colorado.  Friday he allowed a grandslam to Carlos Gonzalez that proved to be the difference in a Nats 5-4 loss…while Sunday Storen surrendered a 2-run single in a tie game.  Since the trade for Jonathan Papelbon, Storen is 1-2 with an ERA of 7.71 with 2 holds and a blown save.  Was this a blip or a beginning?

Game to Watch– Sunday Joe Ross pitches against Madison Bumgarner.  A matchup of a hopeful future and the defending champ’s best pitcher.  It’s also the only game scheduled before 10pm over the next week… so the kids get to bed early.

Game to Miss– Friday Max Scherzer takes his 11-8 mark to the mound against San Francisco’s Matt Cain (5.59 ERA over 7 starts this year).  Scherzer has been less than stellar lately…having coughed up 3-0 and 3-1 leads in his last two starts. Did I mention this is a 10:15 start? Get a good night’s rest so you can head to the Mall for the CAN Softball tournament…