The Nats are finally coming together... maybe. The Rangers are beat up. The Phillies stink. The Padres, who the Nats play next, are also kindly referred to as flawed. (Remember that "team of Frandsens" I called the Nats during their slump a while back? - Meet the reality of that statement) So you take the current (and possibly future) winning with a grain of salt. But the plan is coming together.
The pitching is beginning to be the dominant force that we expected it to be. No team in the NL has allowed fewer runs in the past month. And they've been consistently good. No team in the NL has allowed fewer runs in the past 2 weeks or 1 week either.
The hitting is on a nice little roll as well. The past two weeks, with first LaRoche and now Zimm back, they've been a Top 3 force in the NL (let's not look before that). The combination of those two has lead to a 6-3 stretch and the Nats being back to 1 game out of first.
It's here that we notice how important it is that the Braves (or Marlins, I guess) didn't run away during that early stretch. If the Nats had a 6-3 game stretch and found themselves 5 or 6 games out the feeling would be a lot different. Less "Here we come" and more "What do we have to do?" Given the peaks and valleys of a usual season coming back from a big deficit (8 games or so) can take a couple months, even if you are the better team. You gain 3 games over 10 games, then lose one in the next five. Rinse repeat... the fact that they never fell further than 3.5 out is huge.
Last year the Nats were in a similar situation at the end of May - 4.5 out rather than 3.5, but rather than climb back up they dropped back and hit that 8 game deficit on June 5th. They would claw their way back to 4 games over and 4 games out over the next month but a 6 game losing streak after the All-Star break would end the season. They would follow that with a 11-7 run and would LOSE 5 games in the standings.
This should serve as two points going forward. One - that plunge in July this took place with the full team in place. These things can happen even with everyone here so it's important to maintain strong play all year long. The Nats spent the first two months screwing around, half dealing with injuries. It hasn't cost them, but it could. Two - they have a tough stretch coming up after the Padres series but if they can make it out of that within 3-4 games out, they should be in good enough position for the rest of the year. We (or I really - I can't speak for you) didn't think they'd be here if they didn't take charge during their weak stretch, but sometimes things work out for you. Didn't in 2013, but looking like it might in 2014.