The Nationals played the Chicago Cubs in a four game series last week that while not being a duel of division leaders could serve as a potential playoff preview (even though the Cubs have been playing tag with .500 this year they’re just two games out of first place in the Central).  And while they split with the defending World Series champs, the series caused more concern than confidence.  While they won handily in the middle two games (by a combined 14-5 score) the Nats bookended the series with a pair of 5-4 losses.  Defeats where they failed to execute the little things (errors one night, a bullpen blowup another).  October baseball magnifies all of the little things…and with a chance to show the world they could execute on all cylinders the Nats came up short.

Plan C- so much for Trea Turner lighting up the basepaths this summer.  Before suffering a non-displaced fracture in his right wrist, the Nats shortstop was tops in the Majors with 35 steals (22 of them coming in June).  The offensive engine will now be on its third sparkplug this season (remember Adam Eaton?) and while Brian Goodwin and Michael A. Taylor have had their moments this year neither is what Turner was.  See you in September…

All Star Central- I know the midsummer classic doesn’t drop by the district until next year, but the Nats are sending five to Miami.  Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy were each voted as starters by the fans.  Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg make the roster as well…while Anthony Rendon is one of the five NL finalists for the final roster spot.  Vote early and often.

Dissecting the Division- is anyone worried about Atlanta?  The Braves have inched a little closer by winning 11 of 15…and now stand seven and a half games back in second place.  All this while ranking 18th in the majors in runs scored and 20th in ERA.  With Freddie Freeman on the shelf due to injury.  Just like the Nats regained their mojo a few weeks ago by taking three of four from the Mets, they can kick the Braves back into the land of non-contention this week during their four game series in DC.

O’s Woes- after taking four of six from Tampa Bay and Toronto on the road, the Birds dropped two of three to the Rays at Camden Yards over the weekend.  Halfway through the season the team is 40-41…and closer to last place in the AL East than a playoff spot.  Seven games on the road take manager Buck Showalter’s team into the All Star Break;  Milwaukee leads the NL Central while Minnesota’s only three games back in the AL Central.  There’s been plenty of talk about if the O’s are buyers or sellers as the trading deadline approaches.  This week could go a long ways toward determining their status.

Last Week’s Heroes- we’re here to praise Trea Turner, not to bury him.  The sparkplug hit .429 and stole 7 bases before his injury.  Bryce Harper homered twice in prime time Sunday (helping avert a sweep in St. Louis) and hit .346.  Max Scherzer went 2-0 with an ERA of 0.69, striking out 18 over 13 innings.  Gio Gonzalez was almost as impressive, posting an ERA of 1.38 over two starts with 17 strikeouts over 13 frames.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Wieters each hit .167.  Tanner Roark’s June swoon ends with a three-inning effort (he went 1-4 this month with an 8.31 ERA) where he allowed three earned runs.  Relievers Blake Treinen, Jacob Turner and Matt Grace each had ERA’s of 10+.

Game to Watch- Friday Max Scherzer starts against Atlanta’s ageless R.A. Dickey.  Every Max start is must-watch.  And you can’t beat a July Friday night in DC.

Game to Miss- Tuesday Joe Ross pitches against the Mets’ Seth Lugo.  It’s an 11:05 AM start.  Go to the pool…

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