On the surface the Nationals dropped four of seven to fellow playoff contenders Atlanta and the Chicago Cubs.  The way they got there is a microcosm of how frustrating this season has been for a team that appears to be less than the sum of its parts.  In three of the seven games the Nats’ bats produced six or more runs–and they won all three.  Three of those games were decided by two runs or fewer–and the Nats lost all three.  Including Sunday night’s come-from-ahead defeat at Wrigley Field.  While Ryan Madson hitting a pair of batters before giving up a grand slam was not ideal (especially with one of the base-runners reaching on an error), Friday’s loss was even more frustrating. Nine left on base after going 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Jeremy Hellickson walking the bases loaded in the sixth to secure a shower despite having a no-hitter going.  Greg Holland walking in what would be the decisive run in the seventh.  And Juan Soto getting picked twice off of first base in a one-run game.  These are the Nationals- a team that is 11-20 in one-run games.  As they trail Atlanta and Philadelphia plus five other teams in the Wild Card race, the little things become big over the final 44 games.  Can the team that has been admittedly sloppy for four-plus months finally turn the corner? 

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta takes a half game lead after blasting Miami 9-1 Monday afternoon. The Braves and Philadelphia are both within striking distance of the Nats in the standings, but the five to six game cushion has existed for some time.  And the longer the cushion stays in place the quicker it hardens.

O’s Woes- well, at long last the Birds have been officially eliminated from AL East contention and are assured of a losing record.  Their chances at avoiding a 100-loss campaign are dwindling (they need a 28-15 finish) by the day and the worst mark in team history (54-107 from 1988) isn’t too far away (they need to finish 20-23 to avoid that distinction).

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman captured NL Player of the Week honors after hitting .476 with three homers and 12 RBI. Matt Wieters hit .353 while Trea Turner batted .345.  Max Scherzer struck out 17 while walking a pair over 14 innings and the Nats also got solid starts from Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark.

Last Week’s Humbled- let the record show that the bullpen is shorthanded, but Matt Grace, Wander Suero and Ryan Madson each posted ERA’s over six.  Same case with Kelvin Herrera who’s on the disabled list.  Adam Eaton hit .200 with eight strikeouts and no walks while Juan Soto batted .182 and got picked off first base twice Friday in a one run game.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats begin a series with Miami, and while Max Scherzer takes to the mound in search for his 16th win of the year it’s also Hawaiian Shirt night at the ballpark.  Very, very tough to pass this one up.

Game to Miss- Saturday Tommy Milone pitches against Wei-Yin Chen in a duel of starters with ERA’s over five. Pool time is slowly but surely shrinking with Labor Day looming. Get a full day in the water if you can.

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