This season had been defined very simply at the start of the season. Beat the Mets. The Phillies, Marlins, and most certainly Braves, were not going to challenge for the NL East. They would probably not even be in the Wild Card picture. The division race was going to come down to one of two teams, the reigning champion NY Mets or the champion of the year before, Wasington Nationals. So beat the Mets and the Nats are in the playoffs and out of the Wild Card. Simple as that.
10 games in and there was a little bit of hope that the Mets were going to stumble for a while. The Nats were 9-1, the Mets were 4-6, and the Nats had a nice little 5 games lead. Early? For sure. But the easiest way to get to a nice lead halfway through the year is to get to a nice lead a quarterway through the year and the easiest way to get to a nice lead a quarterway through the year is... you get my point. Since then though the Nats have gone 5-4* and the Mets have gone 8-2. Suddenly a 5 game lead is a 2 game lead.
All this means is if the Nats are to win the East, it's probably not going to fall in their lap. They'll have to beat the Mets. Nothing has changed from pre-season expectations. We hoped they might have. They didn't.
Even if the Nats struggle in the "Toughest Road Trip Ever" the two teams will almost certainly still be close come their first meeting. So circle that date. Tell the spouses and kids you need the those nights off. May 17th-19th and then May 23rd-25th could go a long way to deciding who's on top in October and who's at best playing in a one-game winner take all Wild Card game.
The offense again fails to impress. They aren't terrible but they are below average for the league. This is with the best offensive player in the majors remember. Last night we saw what that could mean as the Phillies chose to walk Bryce three times last night, and clearly were ok with walking him in his final at bat**. When they pitched to him, he came through. He's going to get fewer and fewer at bats that matter. That means they'll need someone behind him to pick it up. Werth, who I was hoping might be on the rise, went 0-4 with a K. Zimm had a big hit, and also a big K. Can they go Bryce / Murphy back to back?
What's up with Max? I talked about it yesterday here, in the comments, and on Twitter. But let's review as there are two things going on. 1) Last year's master of control was unlike Max historically. While it's possible to change, what we are seeing now - the increase in walks, the missed spots - is in line with past performances. 2) He's likely missing up more (I'll have to check on that) the result being more HRs given up (I don't have to check on that). He's gave up more HRs than anyone last year after the All-Star break and that isn't counting the 3 in two games he gave up right before that. He's on a HR a game pace this year. Either #1 or #2 by themselves isn't too bad because Max can dial it up when needed and get a big strikeout. You can deal with that and still be pretty damn good (see Max last year where he was only dealing with #2 for half the year) But 1 & 2 together present problems. We'll just have to keep watching.
You know who's good? Felipe Rivero. You know who's been ridden pretty hard so far? Felipe Rivero. 10 appearance in 19 games and 11 and 2/3 innings. That's an 85 appearances and 99.5 innings of work pace. Now before you get all "Dusty!" I don't see any evidence he rides his best relievers any harder than anyone else. I expect under 80 appearances and a lot fewer innings pitched per game. In other words, I expect Clippard usage. Heavy, but not an burden. But even if he wants to overuse Rivero, I'm ok with that. This is the new normal. Minors filled with high 90s arms ticking like time bombs. Bring them up, use them up. It's ok with me.
*This is more a fluke of where we're picking the Nats schedule up than anything. You get the L in the last game of a series that they won 2 games to 1 and the L to start this new series. It's not meant to represent how the Nats are playing right now, (they still haven't lost a series) but just to illustrate how the ground was made up.
**Bryce totally tried to come through swinging at borderline pitches in the 9th that he'd probably take otherwise. Unwise? Perhaps, but the way he's hitting I'll take Bryce trying to make something happen on tough pitches than these other guys. Now, I just assume the situation dictated his approach. If instead it's frustration and he starts doing this with no one on in the 4th, that'll be a problem.