It's a good rule of thumb to say you want to win 2/3rds of your games versus the "bad teams" and 1/2 of your games versus the "good teams".* This amounts to winning every series against the dregs of the league (with an occasional sweep thrown in there to compensate for the occasional lost series) and winning every series at home and grabbing a game on the road versus quality opponents. If your schedule breaks down evenly between the bad and good this is a 94/95 win pace. That's usually good enough to challenge for a division title, and almost certainly good enough to make the playoffs.
The Nats didn't get to 15-6 but they are 14-7 against the "bad teams" and that's 2/3rds. They remain on target. It's a little disappointing given that at various times they were 9-1, 11-3, and 14-4 but such is a baseball season. It ebbs and flows. It does not follow a strict pattern.
So do the Nats need to go .500 in this road trip? No, they need to go .500 in these games and say the DET series at home after it and the STL series at home in late May and the Cubs series at home in mid June combined. The better they do on this trip the easier that will be. A good goal would be a 4-6 record. That means they either won a series or they took a game from everyone and two from the Cubs. 3-7 would also be acceptable. Anything less would be trouble. Anything more than 4-6 would be a success.
3-7 is not a big hurdle, no. But let's reiterate - this is the hardest stretch the Nats will likely play this year. It is 3 quality teams, including 4 games against the best team in baseball right now, all away, with no days off leading up to it or during it. They may not have a stretch again where 3-7 is ok. In fact let me check... no probably not. There's a CLE/SFG/ARI road trip at the end of July where 3-6 might be a goal if those teams keep their heads above water. I suppose PHI/CIN/CHW might also fit that at the start of June but you'd have to assume the Phillies stay around .500 and the Reds stop crashing. And still 3-6 is better than 3-7 so they still aren't getting to that level. This is the lowest acceptable stand a good Nats team will have all year.
Just as important as winning 3 games though, will be scoring runs. The Nats haven't scored in 22 innings and have only scored 11 runs in their last 5 games, which includes an extra 7 innings so it's almost like 6. They have an OPS as a team of .553 over the past week, which means the team is hitting like 2015 Dan Uggla. They are still only 9th in R/G which doesn't seem that bad but they are a full half-run behind 8th place which is a HUGE gap. Better to say there is no difference right now between the Nats and middling offensive teams like the Reds, Brewers, Padres, and Marlins that make up #s 10 through 13. The Nats have 5 starters with OPSs under .670 (if you prefer BAs under .235).
We keep grasping for someone to heat up. Maybe Zimm... no. Maybe Werth... no. Now it might be MAT (4-7 with 2 walks over the course of Sunday and Tuesday)... but probably not. The Nats had survived these guys not hitting earlier. What's killing the Nats now is Murphy has cooled off a bit. The pressure now is completely on Bryce and you can see him taking it in. A bit to anxious at the plate in a big spot. A bit too slow in the field on a big hit.
This first two games of this trip are crucial in my mind. Right now the Nats are on a slide but a new series is a fresh start, especially in a different location. The Cardinals, unlike the Royals (very good) or the Cubs (great) are only good pitching wise and the Nats catch the consistently mediocre Mike Leake and the inconsistent Jamie Garcia to start the series. If they are going to hit anyone in St. Louis it'll be these two. They match up against Stras and Ross who should provide the Nats with their best chance of winning assuming they can score some runs. Lose both of these and all of a sudden you are leaning on the struggling Max to beat the fantastic Carlos Martinez in the last game to avoid a sweep. You don't want that.
OK, let's get this party started.
*Basically if you hear anyone say the Nats "should have" gone say 16-5 or 17-4 to start the year versus these teams that person is an idiot and you shouldn't listen to their opinion on this subject.