The Nationals entered the season as the team to beat in the NL East. But after posting losing records in April, June and July the Nats instead of being the pursued are the pursuers.  Yes, they still have 16 games remaining against Atlanta and Philadelphia but with every day a little bit of sand slips through the division hourglass.  They’re currently in a stretch of five games over three days thanks to the summer weather, and while the rotation appears to be finding itself Stephen Strasburg remains on the disabled list.  Like sands through the hourglass…

Let’s Make a Deal? Minimal movement at the non-waiver trading deadline for the Nationals who opted not to bring in a starting pitcher nor a catcher.  Instead they dealt middle reliever Brandon Kintzler to the Cubs for a minor leaguer.  The challenge to a team that’s played under its abilities for four months:  bring it.  Since that vote of confidence they’ve gone 5-1, which given the fact they played a pair of last-place teams is what they needed to do to stay relevant in the race.

Dissecting the Division- the Nats begin the week five and a half games behind Philadelphia and five games behind Atlanta.  Everybody’s schedule ratchets up a little bit in August as the Phils face division-leading Boston and Arizona, the Braves battle Wildcard contenders Milwaukee and Colorado and the Nats play their next 11 games against clubs with winning records.  Miami has taken a one-game lead over the New York Mets for the East Division Cellar…with both team’s offenses offensive in the wrong way. The Marlins and Mets are tied for 26th in the Majors in runs scored–and at least Miami is consistent in that the team that Derek Jeter blew up ranks 26th in team ERA.

O’s Woes- how will the Dog Days affect the Birds?  So far they’re 2-3 this month…which at .400 is actually an improvement of their full body of work (gulp!-.304).  They’re four losses away from clinching a second straight losing record and the O’s “Tragic Number” is six.  The Wildcard elimination number is 16—and that’s with Oakland not losing games to Seattle.  Last week saw multiple deals at the deadline as the Birds are in rebuild mode.  The final July haul:  14 prospects plus a major leaguer for five guys either with expiring deals or not in the long-tearm plans of the club.  The watered down bunch needs to finish 29-21 to avoid a 100-loss campaign, a tough task for a team that had just 28 wins at the All Star break.  A much more reasonable 21-29 finish means they avoid the worst record in team history (1988).

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .476 with six runs and six RBI while Trea Turner tallied six stolen bases.  Max Scherzer struck out his customary 10 while Tanner Roark appears to have found himself, going 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA-which is impressive until you realize it took him less than a month to grow his hair and beard back after shaving in early July.  Those are mad skills.

Last Week’s Humbled- Shawn Kelley not only allowed a three-run homer in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s 25-4 rout of the Mets, but the reliever slammed his glove on the mound and reportedly glared into the dugout.  Unfortunately for the Nats front office that was enough as they designated the right-hander for assignment the next day.  Kids, nothing good comes out of a tantrum.

Game to Watch- Tuesday night Max Scherzer brings his 15-5 mark to the mound in search for his sixth straight victory.  In a year with an injury-mangled lineup and a scrambled rotation, Scherzer has been the one constant-with the exception of his April loss in Atlanta the righthander has been spot-on.

Game to Miss- Tuesday afternoon Jefry Rodriguez makes his fourth Major League start against Atlanta’s Max Fried.  While the Braves’ starter’s name is pronounced “freed” he’s off to a “fried” 1-4 start in 2018.  Smart fans should nap by the pool to gear up for the evening affair.

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