These are the series this team would have lost last year.  Two thirds of their way through a nine game divisional gauntlet, the 2016 Nationals remain in front of the NL East pack after taking two of three from the Mets and two of three from the Marlins.  The load doesn’t lighten up with three more games against the Mets and four against a St. Louis team still smarting from a sweep earlier this year against the Nats.

Dissecting the Division- the Nats lead the Mets by 1.5 games, the Phillies by 2, and Miami by 4.5 entering this week.  Atlanta decided that a 9-28 start was the perfect time to re-boot, and Fredi Gonzalez says goodbye two and a half years removed from a playoff appearance.  That and a dispersion of talent that would make Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman (before he fell for Julia Roberts) proud.  Since then, the Braves have won 3 of 6.  I’d joking say “Break up the Braves” but they still have the look of a once-good band that only has one remaining original member touring with them.

Division to Watch- just up I-95 the Preakness was run this past weekend at Pimlico.  But there’s another intriguing race involving Baltimore as the Orioles and Boston are tied for first in the AL East.  Fans of a certain age will recognize this Red Sox team…they lead the majors in runs scored but have a pitching staff filled with tires ready to blow at any moment.  We only need Bill Lee to come out of retirement to join the back end of the rotation to make it complete.

Last Week’s Heroes- remember in elementary school when a teacher would move two kids’ desks apart and their work would improve dramatically?  Manager Dusty Baker dropped Anthony Rendon from second to sixth in the order last week… and the third baseman responded by hitting .500 with 7 RBI.  The guy he was following in the order, Ben Revere, came out of his early season slumber by hitting .348 with 4 runs scored.  Hopefully Mr. Baker will keep Anthony and Ben’s desks apart during class but still let them sit together at lunch.

Last Week’s Humbled- Danny Espinosa (.158 with 9 strikeouts) remains a liability in the #8 spot.  With a lineup where the prime offensive positions (first base and left field) aren’t producing (27th and 26th in OPS respectively), you need every little bit from every spot at this time.  The shadow of Trea Turner in AAA Syracuse (.317 with 35 runs scored and 14 stolen bases) looms large.

Game to Watch- Saturday evening Gio Gonzalez pitches against St. Louis.  The lefthander is off to a 3-1 start with a 1.86 ERA…enjoying a career rebirth under new manager Dusty Baker.  The Cardinals counter with Adam Wainwright-who’s off to an atypical start in 2016 (4-3 but with an ERA of 5.92).  Can he shake his early-season struggles?

Game to Miss- Thursday Joe Ross (3-4, 2.70 ERA) pitches against the Cardinals’ Mike Leake (3-3, 4.07).  Unfortunately on a staff where one pitcher (Scherzer) is tying major league records, another is still unbeaten (Strasburg), a third has cool hair to match his hot start (Gio) and a fourth is sneaky good (Tanner Roark), Joe Ross is the Gummo Marx.  Plus, after nine straight games against division foes, it’s okay if you catch up on TURN and The Americans that you’ve DVRd, TiVoed or simply recorded on Betamax.