Are the Royals "good"? At this point the question of competition is becoming moot. Are the Cardinals and Royals are actually middling teams? (based on RS/RA, 1-run record, the Cardinals probably are very good and the Royals are probably not good at all) Are the Phillies and Marlins in the resurgent NL East actually good teams? (Marlins are a bit of smoke and mirrors, Phillies are a 5 alarmer in a vanity factory). Regardless of how one chooses to answer these questions it is becoming clear that the Nats are better than the bulk of the National League and that is all that matters, Maybe (I don't think so) everyone stinks and the Nats are the best of the worst. Maybe (I'm not too high on this either) everyone is solid and the Nats are a super team. Results are the same and results are what matter in the end.
Now that the Nats are settling among the best teams in the NL the question becomes not where they rank overall but where they rank among their peers. The Nats' peers right now are the Cubs and the Mets*. Let's take a look at some stats
Cubs: 20-6 Run differential +93 #1 offense at 6.12 R/G, #1 pitching staff at 2.54 R/G
Mets: 17-9 Run differential +44 #6 offense at 4.62 R/G, #3 pitching staff at 2.92 R/G
Nats: 19-8 Run differential +50 #8 offense at 4.44 R/G, #2 pitching staff at 2.59 R/G
Cubs seem to be clearly a step ahead of even the Mets/Nats, who seems very similar here. Let's look at it more scouting report style.
Strengths : Front of the rotation has been amazing, Rizzo and Bryant are studs and hitting like it. Fowler is having an amazing start. Bench is deep. Very good defensive team.
Weaknesses : Corner OF having issues getting going, back of rotation merely ok results so far, middle relief questionable
Strengths : Very good and deep rotation. Outfield's offensive performance has been very good. Relief pitching solid and deep. No real holes in other positions.
Weaknesses : No real strengths in other positions. Not a good defensive team. Catcher offensive performance remains an issue. Bench may be weak.
Strengths : Very good and complete rotation. Bryce Harper may be the best player in baseball. Daniel Murphy is having an amazing start. Bullpen seems good and deep. Very good defensive team
Weaknesses : Multiple questionable bats in line-up due to injury returns, prospects not developing, and Danny Espinosa. Bench is not particularly good. Closer is problematic.
The Nats have legit issues offensively that we hope will resolve themselves. They seem to have been lessening over the past few games. The Cubs have legit issues but it hasn't seemed to matter much. The performance of the starters and back of the pen negates middle relief issues. The quality bench helps cover for the slow starters. Both of these could be tested more as the season wears on. The Mets don't really have any issues outside of defense, but "everyone's good" offense can be beat if no one is hot at the time as the beginning of the year showed.
I'm excited. In the next 20 games the Nats play the Cubs 4 times and the Mets 6. These are clearly the best teams in the NL right now. How these games go could set up the narrative of the season, at least from mid May to the All-Star break. Are the Nats going to go toe to toe with these guys? Can they separate themselves from them? Or will they be left in the 3rd place position?
This is fun. Let's do this.
*The more I look at it though, the more I think the Cardinals could (should?) rise back up to this level. The hitting is legit. The pitching is only held down by a couple rotational issues but fix those and this is a 95ish win team. So in hindsight after looking at more than just the record and schedule, the Cardinals sweep is extremely impressive. So don't be surprised if right after that Mets series that the Nats are playing a hot Cardinals team who are also among the best teams in the NL.