I know the focus on the Nats has shifted. It's gone from "what a great start with great pitching" to "what did Bryce Harper do tonight?" The kid is already being diefied by Nats fans, seemingly unable to do any wrong. Every at bat is a great one whether he gets a hit or not. Every hustled out is inspirational rather than, you know, an out. Hell, he can't just be very good. Every double is a home run that just missed.* A very good throw from a little bit in in LF to create a bang-bang play on Hairston becomes the BEST THROW EVA even though Nats fans had just seen a much better throw 2 weeks earlier from Ankiel. The kid, at 19, NINETEEN, has done well in 5 games in the majors. Why can't that be enough?**
Anyway, the real story hasn't changed though. The pitching is still awesome. They faced their 2nd decent offense and while it wasn't the complete shutdown they rendered to Houston, they held the D-backs to 10 runs in 3 games, or 3.33 R/G, about a run less than Arizona has averaged this year. During the recent 5 game slide they gave up 2,3,4,2,5 runs or 3.2 a game. The starting pitching is still particularly mind-blowing. They are 2nd in the NL in quality start % (19 out of 25 games), and lead the league in R/G given up. (and they are tied for the lead in no decisions, thanks offense!) Basically outside of one random Edwin Jackson game they've done nothing wrong. Twenty five out of twenty-six games you'd look at the line (ignoring unearned runs) and take it. That's crazy.
The point right now is - still talk about the pitching. It's still awesome and as long as it is the Nats still have a chance. If the offense picks up, as it possibly could a month or so down the road, and is even just league average the Nats should find themselves winning a lot of games and might even be the new favorite to take the division. If the offense remains terrible, as it possibly will for the immediate future, than the Nats will be in a lot of close games and it'll come down, somewhat, to luck. (I know some don't believe this but it really is true. 100 years of baseball tells us great relief pitching or hitting with RISP is not strongly correlated with winning close games.) Don't let Bryce or other late-inning heroics make you forget where the games are being won.
A good team would take 2 from the D-backs and they did. A good team would take 2 from the Phillies. That's what we want to see. Really though a sweep either way is the only really meaningful outcome. Phillies take 2, they are still 2.5 games out, with the Braves likely between them and the Nats. The Nats take two they are still only 4.5 games up and won those games at home. Let's see what happens.
*To be completely honest, when I saw Putz's meltdown against the Nats I thought - why didn't Bryce crush the ball like Desmond? They were both terribly flat fastballs right into the batters' wheelhouse. Desmond easily clears right center. Bryce can't carry it out. Sure, that's just one hit but despite the BP theatrics the kid does have only 4 homers now in his last 62 games. I'm not saying they won't come. Again, he's 19. I think they will, but it is curious to me.
**Eh I know why it can't be enough, because fans are inherently stupid and prone to theatrics and that's part of the fun of sports. I've paced around the living room for many a Yankee playoff game with a mini-bat because I thought it was good luck. But as more of an outsider, man it can be annoying.