You've had it rough recently losing 3 in a row, and 5 of your last 7, losing series to the Yankees, who you want to beat, and the Marlins, who you want to beat, and the first game of a home series with the Nationals, who you want to beat. Meanwhile the Marlins have won 7 of their last 8 and the Nationals have won three in a row scoring 33 runs. You were hoping the Marlins were really secretly bad. You were hoping the Nationals were digging themselves a giant hole. Those hopes are fading.
If the Nationals beat you tonight and the Marlins win, you'll barely be a series ahead of your biggest competitors when you started the week more than two series ahead. You'll have just lost games started by your two best pitchers.
It's panic time.
Three straight games. That's all it takes really. Some team is always panicking because some team in relative contention is always riding a 3 game losing streak. Some team is always feeling like they've righted the ship because they've won three in a row. (Yep that includes the Nats - who are relying on Danny Espinosa, Yunel Escobar, and some timely other hits during this small win streak to make up for important bats that don't look quite right, and starting pitching that is looking decidedly average outside of Scherzer)
Don't get too high. Don't get too low. Take the macro view. What does that tell us? Let's take stock.
The Mets, 2015 challenger #1, have a 5 game headstart with a month in the books. They've done this with a bit of luck; such as going 5-2 in one run games, and scoring the 4th most runs in the NL with a offense that's average at best. While luck may be on their side, they are still good (13-10 pythag record) and they aren't relying on many crazy performances. Duda isn't probably this good, but he could be close. Niese is getting real lucky but the rest of the pitching staff is hitting its mark and has potential to be better. Add to that one of their better bats, David Wright, coming back and the Mets should at least hang in the conversation for a while.*
The Marlins, challenger #2, are a half-game ahead. The offense is predictably carrying the team but it still doesn't seem to be all there yet. While Dee Gordon is likely to dip, there is more underperformance than over. Yelich is out with an injury. Morse, Prado,
The Nationals are healthier but not healthy, with some issues that we're hoping, but aren't entirely sure, will clear up soon.With the outburst in the last few games the Nats have moved up the offensive ranks to 2nd in the NL. The good news is Bryce might have turned the corner and Span, if he can stay healthy, doesn't seem a strong candidate for decline in comparison to last year. But there are likely unsustainable performances from Espinosa and Escobar carrying them as well. Desmond should improve at least somewhat but the question is whether or not the underperformances of Werth, Ramos, and Zimmerman are long-term issues or not. If so even the return of a healthy Rendon won't keep this offense from being closer to average. The pitching staff issues are more of a worry. Strasburg, Gio, and ZNN all have yet to shake off an early season funk and Fister is pushing his luck even further. The bullpen went through a real rough patch that hasn't fully cleared up. Unlike the Marlins there isn't real fizzle potential here. Neither the pitching staff or offense should be terrible,** even if they underperform, but there is a question of whether everything comes together to make them the predicted unstoppable force or if they never quite get healthy enough and spend the year taking three steps back for every four steps foward.
Based on the above worry is still around but a nice strong 6 game winning streak including sweeping the Mets would clear a lot of that right up, especially if Werth and Ramos' bats heat up and we hear good news about Rendon and Janssen. We're on the cusp of it coming together. Will it?
*they also have Syndergaard and injury returning D'Arnaud as potential mid-season game changers. Which makes it important for the Nats to take this series while the Mets are playing poorly and not at full strength.
**assuming Rendon eventually comes back