First off, you can honestly go much farther than 27-26 to pull a mediocre record out of the Nats 2012 season. After starting 14-4 the Nats went 39-35 in their next 74 games, that's an 85 win pace over almost half a season. Why didn't we quite recognize that? Well first, the Nats started with that 14-4 record. When you start out 10 games over that hides a lot of mistakes.
But secondly, there weren't a lot of mistakes. When you start 14-4, it's natural to look for the 4-14 to even it out (especially when you start the season thinking your team is a high 80's win team, not a high 90s win one.) The Nats almost had that with a 5 game losing streak to bring their record to 14-9, but then a 4 game winning streak put them right back where they were before. Thus went nearly the entirity of the next half season. Look at the streaks during that 74 game stretch.
-5, +4, -3, +3, -1, +1, -1, +1, -3, +3, -1, +3, -3, +1, -1 , +2, -1, +6, -4, +2, -1, +1, -2, +2, -1, +1, -1, +4, -1, +1, -1, +1, -1, +1, -1, +2, -3
Only one streak longer than 4 games after those first 9 games. Only 3 longer than 3. Every small set of losses was answered with a small set of wins and vice versa. This wasn't a roller-coaster ride which may expose the flaws of a team, but rather an gentle country drive where you got to enjoy the view from up on top of the division. Let's take out the "call and answer" streaks and see what you have.
The Nats did drop a couple of games but that was it in the first 35 games or so. Hardly anything to concern a fan. Then came a nice little two week plus stretch when the Nats made up for that and more putting them at a new high of 13 over. A little more than a week later they would go 16 over. The only even mildly concerning part would happen at the end of this time frame when the Nats would drop back to 14 over. Even then, if you'd had been willing to wait out any 3 game losing streak since the start you'd hardly be concerned. You'd probably expect another 3 game winning streak right now.
Instead the Nats took off, they'd win 18 of their next 22 (36 of their next 51) to put the division essentially out of reach.
Looking back you could hardly ask for an easier ride to the title. One bump in the road around the 30 game mark at the beginning of this 74 game stretch where the Nats were "only" 6 over and tied for first. They'd only be tied one more time after that and really spent the entire season slowly, then speedily putting Atlanta in the rear view.
All I'm telling you is what you already know. Last year was great for Nats fans. What does it mean for this year?
What it means is this. The Nats have fiddled around for a third of the year so far. They can even fiddle around a while longer. Throw in a 9-10 finish to 2012 and they basically played average ball for stretches that added up to 93 games of last year. But if you do that you need to be AWESOME in the other 70 games. The Nats would go 50-19 for the rest of the games which is basically playing 40% of the season like one of the best teams ever. Even if you don't want 98 games, you just want 90, you'd have to play as well as they played last year, a 98 win pace. It's not that that's impossible, but (1) it's damn hard to keep up that level of play for a single long stretch and (2) if you play like an 85 win team for the first 60% of the year, why would you think you'd suddenly play like a 98-win team for the last 40%?
The Nats shouldn't fiddle around much longer. Two average months is ok, even typical, for a division winner. Three average months though? That's a back-breaker. That's a fight for a WC team. Winning this Braves series would be a good start but a tall order. Win 1 of these games and then, if they want to be serious division contenders, they have to start winning series after series in June. There's no way around it.