The Nationals wrapped up a 5-3 homestand with back to back wins over Atlanta.  The weekend was also notable for the release of polarizing reliever Jonathan Papelbon a little over a year after they traded for the closer…and a little less than a eleven months after the reliever choked Bryce Harper in the dugout at Nats Park.  The 35-year old had saved 19 games but had the worst ERA (4.37) of his career while also having his highest WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) since his rookie season.  Clearly he is at the point of his career where he has the closer mindset…and taking a setup role with the trade for Mark Melancon was not going to work long-term for this team.  He’ll be remembered as a bad pickup that blew up in the Nats’ faces as they careened out of contention…despite the fact he saved 26 of 31 opportunities in DC.  General Manager Mike Rizzo can be thankful that this will be viewed as a blip on the radar of his building a contender…while the team now has one less excuse if they don’t win it all.  Not that there’s any pressure now…

Dissecting the Division- the Nats lead in the NL East is now 8.5 games over Miami.  The Marlins’ hopes took a major hit over the weekend with Giancarlo Stanton’s groin injury- and now he’s done for 2016.  Even though he’s hitting a career-low .244, Stanton leads the team in homers and RBI.  The ARod to South Beach rumors are already percolating.  The New York Mets are 10.5 games back and are still in the Wildcard race…trailing St. Louis by 2.5 games.  But they’ve lost 12 of their last 18.  Philadelphia (14.5 GB) and Atlanta (26 GB) remain mildly entertaining sub-500 teams that remain in contention in name only.

The Wild, Wild, West- don’t the Dodgers know this is an even year?  LA trails San Francisco by one game (we won’t recognize the candidacies of Colorado, San Diego and Arizona) as the Giants have stumbled to a 9-18 mark since the All Star Break.  In Dave Roberts’ first season in the dugout, the Dodgers have cobbled together the 3rd best fielding team in the bigs while LA’s bullpen has the 2nd best ERA in the Majors.  The two teams tangle 9 times between now and the end of the season- with six of those nine taking place in Los Angeles.  Perhaps Vin Scully perhaps will get to call one final fantastic finish in this rivalry.

Last Week’s Heroes- Jayson Werth hits .333 while notching 2 HR and 5 RBI and scoring 5 runs.  Trea Turner and Ben Revere each score 7 runs and Anthony Rendon drives in 8.  Rookie Reynaldo Lopez scatters 5 hits over 7 innings to post his first Major League win.  Outfielder Brian Goodwin tallies his first ML hit and RBI.  Most importantly, Goodwin made sure that his mother received the ball from his first hit.

Last Week’s Humbled- Stephen Strasburg allowed 6 runs over 5.1 innings to Atlanta- coughing up homers to Jace Peterson and Freddie Freeman (who would go 5-9 with 4 walks against Nats pitching).  Gio Gonzalez staggered to 5+ innings en route to victory.  Danny Espinosa hit .133 with 5 strikeouts.  And the heat in the DC Metro area is beyond unbearable.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats are in Atlanta and under-the-radar Tanner Roark (13-6, 2.81 ERA) tries to win his 5th straight start.  He doesn’t have the presence of Scherzer or command the attention of Strasburg, but Roark has been money since Memorial Day (10-2 with an ERA of 2.90).  Julio Teheran (3-9 but owning an ERA of 2.81 as well) is slated to pitch for the Braves (according to ESPN.COM’s schedule).

Game to Miss- Gio Gonzalez (8-9, 4.24 ERA) matches up against Joel De La Cruz (0-5, 4.09) in the series finale.  It’s the final game before the four games in two cities battle of the Beltways with the Orioles…so if you’re going to clear your throat here is your prime chance.

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