The Nationals came up short in attempting to sweep the New York Mets Sunday.  But they still departed Citi Field with a double-digit lead in the NL East…and won’t face a team that currently has a winning record until after the All Star Break.  Not that home-field advantage is worth the paper it’s printed on (as we’ve learned in 2012, 2014 and 2016), but the team has a great opportunity to make a run at the NL West trio (more on them shortly).

Dissecting the Division- what made the 3-1 weekend on the road against the Mets even more special was that in previous years these were weekends that underachieving Nats teams found ways to go 1-3 or even 0-4.  And the Mets were red-hot with five wins in six games entering the four game set.  Instead of giving their NL East foes hope, Manager Dusty Baker’s team proved over 36 innings that they were the better bunch.  Now the Mets are tied with Atlanta for second place, with Miami half a game back in third.  Philadelphia?  When does 2019 begin?

The Wild, Wild, West- it’s an odd-numbered year, so forget about San Francisco for the moment.  The NL West is giving fans the best race for their money with three of the top five teams in baseball residing in that division.  Colorado, Arizona and the Los Angeles Dodgers are separated by one game and all three could make the postseason as the next Wildcard contender is nine games behind LA (it’s the Cubs, and it’s a long season, but still…).  The Rockies own the best offense of the trio (tied for first in the bigs in runs scored and second in batting average) while the Diamondbacks boast the most consistent pitching (second in team ERA, ninth in quality starts and fifth in bullpen ERA).  LA has the weakest rotation of the three (24th in the majors in quality starts) and is getting the most out of its offense at this time (sixth in runs score despite ranking 19th in batting average and 17th in home runs).  Brace yourself for plenty of late nights as the three jockey for the division, home field and wildcards.

Last Week’s Heroes- Adam Lind hit .462 over five games while providing depth off the bench.  Daniel Murphy batted .429 while scoring 6 runs and driving in 5.  Max Scherzer strikes out 10 over 8 innings in his lone start while reliever Enny Romero (1 save, 2 holds, 5 strikeouts and no earned runs in 4 innings over 3 games) provided some necessary relief.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman has enjoyed one incredible comeback season, ranking among the league leaders in all three triple crown categories.  Thus hitting .208 will be viewed as a minor hiccup.  Trea Turner struck out 6 times while walking just once.  Tanner Roark allowed 7 runs over 5 innings in his outing of the week…and the righthander’s ERA in April was 3.64, 4.04 in May and now 6.27 in three June starts.  Joe Blanton, Trevor Gott and Matt Albers each posted ERA’s in the double-digits last week.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats return from their road trip and start Stephen Strasburg (8-2, 3.28 ERA) against Cincinnati.  The Reds pitch Bronson Arroyo.  Yes, the 40-year old former Red Sox hurler is back in the bigs for the first time since 2014 (a spring training stint with the Nats occurred in 2016).  He’s named after Charles Bronson, making every outing of the righthander’s redemption tour must-see if only to think about Deathwish and The Dirty Dozen.

Game to Miss- Monday Tanner Roark (6-4, 4.39 ERA) takes to the mound in Miami against Justin Nicolino (4.15 ERA) with “Better Call Saul” warming up in the bullpen as the AMC drama airs its season three finale.  Bob Odenkirk is always good and you’ll recognize Michael McKean (Laverne & Shirley, Spinal Tap) as Jimmy McGill’s upstanding brother with jealousy issues and more, but fans of a certain age will recall blue-blood lawyer Howard Hamlin as the former Professor Lasky from “Saved By the Bell: The College Years”.  My sneaky MVP on this show?  Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, the striving attorney who sees Odenkirk’s character’s possibilities and excesses while trying to stay on the road (literally and figuratively).  Check out all three seasons…

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