The Braves aren't that good either.
I posited (big word!) yesterday that we might have already given up on the Nats NL East chances if the Braves hadn't lost so many starts this year to injury. It's an interesting alternate universe theory to discuss, but in the end it's still an alternate universe theory. The Braves DID lose those arms. They are not as good as they would have looked last November. They are a team that would be at least 2 games back in any other division. A team who is in first place because they managed to go a "blistering" 11-9 in their last 20. A team who facing at home a reeling Red Sox team who just lost 10 in a row have lost two in a row. They are ok. The Nats can beat ok... if they are healthy and if they don't fall too far behind.
The Braves can't score runs, not like they should. They have to carry around the dead weight of Dan Uggla and BJ Upton. Chris Johnson, who why in the hell did they extend this guy, is hitting as if he wants to even out last year's performance. He's not this bad but he's not that good either. Heyward is their own personal headcase. Simmons is still learning to be an effective offensive player. (fun fact : Simmons is less than a month younger than Heyward). The bench, as benches are wont to do, is disappointing. That's a lot of baggage. So even though Justin Upton is living up to his potential and Freeman is a star the offense can't get going. Could it? Sure if Gattis can stay healthy and Heyward can get his head on straight and Simmons can even out a bit. The bench should bounce back. It can be ok. This gives the Nats hope.
What gives the Nats worries is the Braves pitching (or it should) - best ERA in the NL right now. Some people have issues with the Braves staff but there isn't a reason why it can't keep something like this up. Obviously Teheran's not ending the year with an ERA under 2.00 but he's great, Minor is very good. You know I like Santana in the NL. The Nats best hope when it comes to the pitching, funny as it sounds, lies in the fact that both Harang and Floyd are pitching well. This means guys like Wood and Hale, who might develop into something special (probably not for Hale, maybe for Wood) are relegated to the pen. This makes the pen really strong again but it also means that there may come a time where Harang and Floyd come back to Earth and the Braves, like any team would, stick with the veterans longer than they should. Not much of a hope mind you but it's something to hang a hat on, especially trying to come back later in the year when those older arms might be getting tired. (Now could they pitch well all season? I kind of doubt it, but it's not impossible. Could they pitch well enough for long enough to put the Nats in a big hole? That's the more substantial worry.)
And then there's always Fredi.
So the Nats have hope, and the fans are able to still look at this team a game UNDER .500, (which should be unacceptable at this point), and think they can still easily make the playoffs because of the Braves. But remember - it works both ways. The Braves fans have confidence and are able to look at their team 5 games OVER .500 and think they can easily hold the lead because of the Nats. The Nats offense is struggling too and carrying if not dead, then dying weight, Espy, Span. The Nats have guys underperforming (Desmond, Ramos) and young guys still learning (Rendon). The Nats one true offensive presence right now is also one that unlike Freeman and Upton, you don't think can hold up at this lievel for the whole season (LaRoche). The pitching, like the Braves, is strong, but the relief pitching has been so good that it seems prime for a little mid-season correction.
The Nats ace in the hole is that they, unlike the Braves, have good players coming back to fix the offense but they aren't here now. Until that happens the Braves have the edge. The question is whether they can capitalize. The fact that it's a question is good enough to keep the Nats fans hopes alive.