One of my good friends is from Los Angeles and naturally roots for the Dodgers and bleeds blue in the most spirited way (when he was a Nats season ticket holder I joked that the Nats were his “east coast mistress”).  Sometimes he’s irrational on balls, strikes and the correct rose to pair with mini crabcakes.  He’s not off the mark when he mentions that seemingly every year the Dodgers come to DC during the hottest week of July.  Many a time he’s melted in his seats…and rumor is he’s burned at least one shirt to put the sweat-stained piece of clothing out of its misery.  Simply put, July is not an awesome time to be in our nation’s capital.  We even had a President perish due to the Washington summer (Zachary Taylor, 1850).  Before constant campaigning/fundraising and pure laziness became acceptable excuses, there was a reason why congress always took its recess around this time.

During this heatbomb the Nats have gotten somewhat cold, dropping 4 of 6 to wrap up their homestand.  While every week is merely a fine snapshot as opposed to the pure picture (don’t forget, the Cubs and Orioles have both had rough patches yet each currently have the best records in their respective leagues) there’s always room for concern.  But first, make sure you hydrate…

July 31st Deadline, August Edition (or Caveat Emptor)- the non-waiver trading deadline is next Monday.  The Nationals despite leading the NL East are far from perfect.  Production from the leadoff spot (lowest on-base percentage in the majors) and first base (27th in the big leagues in on-base + slugging percentage) have been lacking…and the back end of their rotation remains wobbly (the injured Joe Ross and streaky Gio Gonzalez taking the fun out of watching Tanner Roark’s solid season).  Last year the big move brought Jonathan Papelbon into a clubhouse that was already lost by its manager and cooked the mind of Drew Storen (he’s still trying to get right).  Who do they add this year?

Dissecting the Division- the lead remains four and a half games over Miami and five games over the New York Mets.  With the trade deadline looming one wonders what either team has up its sleeve-last year the Mets won the deadline by acquiring Yoenis Cespedes- as it has been an eternity since the Marlins have been a buyer in late July.  Nice job by the Phillies in their 3-7 surge to create a little more breathing room ahead of last place Atlanta (2-8).

Division to Watch- there’s no tighter race than the AL East…where the Orioles swept Cleveland in a weekend duel of division leaders.  Orioles Magic?  You explain how this team is still in front with just one starter producing (Chris Tillman is 14-2, surpassing his win totals from 2014 and 2015).  Timely hitting and solid defense while doing the little things has Buck Showalter’s bunch ahead of the offensive dynamo known as Boston and sneaky-good Toronto.  When the O’s play the Sox or the Jays over the next two months…I’m watching.

Last Week’s Heroes- Daniel Murphy and Wilson Ramos remain the twin engines that drive this offense:  Murphy hit .429 with 4 runs scored  and 6 RBI while Ramos batted .474 with 5 RBI.  Gio Gonzalez won for the third time in four starts by tossing six solid innings against the Dodgers; he’s bookended his 0-6 stretch with a pair of 3-1 straights.  I don’t know if I want to play blackjack next to this guy…

Last Week’s Humbled- Ben Revere’s hitting .125 in the leadoff spot while Bryce Harper’s hitting .111 in the cleanup spot.  That is a double-whammy most lineups can’t get around.  Danny Espinosa hit .087 last week with 9 strikeouts…as the pendulum shifts wildly from his monster June.  It’s easy to point to Jonathan Papelbon’s implosion (4 earned runs in two-thirds of an inning Sunday), but with prospects Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito unable to pitch even 5 innings the Nats have a dead spot in their rotation.  Get well soon, Joe Ross…

Game to Watch- Wednesday in Cleveland Stephen Strasburg (13-1, 2.83 ERA) pitches against Carlos Carasco (7-3, 2.31) in a duel of division leaders.  I’m curious to see how Strasburg bounces back from his first loss of the season (and just his third defeat since last year’s All Star Break).  His ERA in day games is also over a run higher than in night games.

Game to Miss- actually this is a challenging week as the first four games involve a double-digit winner for the Nats or their foes…bringing us to Sunday in San Francisco.  Gio Gonzalez (6-8, 4.53) faces Matt Cain, who after going 16-5 in 2012 is 13-27 since.  The 31- year old is 1-6 with a 5.86 ERA to start this season.  Enjoy the pool with a Martha’s Vineyard Margarita (Cuervo, Cointreau & Cranberry)…

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