It's versus Blanka.
In the first 40 games the Nats started hot (9-1) then played middling ball for the remainder of time. (15-15). This sounds bad but it's actually not. If you have one really hot streak followed with .500 ball for a quarter of a season, and manage to repeat that 4 times you find yourself going into the penultimate game of the year 32 games over .500 (96-64 for those bad at math). That's not a good team, that's a great team.
It seems odd that avoiding being terrible is the hallmark of a great team but it is. The season is long and being terrible for a stretch is something that happens to most teams. If you don't get it under control quickly it can break your season. Take for example, the greatest team ever, the New York Yankees. They have been one of the best teams in baseball in May going 13-8 since the month started. However, they were one of the worst teams in baseball in April going 8-14 during the opening month. If they manage to keep up their play for the remainder of May, they are going to find themselves playing the best baseball in the majors... and also just a game or two above .500. Their margin for error has been mostly wiped clean. Another long round of bad baseball likely would sink the season.
So the Nats may have not played great baseball going into that first Mets series, but as important, they weren't playing bad baseball either. If the Nats' floor ends up being a month close to .500 then the season will be a breeze.
So that's the question of the moment, are the Nats a .500ish team that happened to have a hot streak at the exact right time to make us think otherwise? Or are the Nats a 90+ win team who will potentially fight for best record in baseball? Well, since the Mets series started the Nats have won 4 of 6 on the road versus a good Mets team and a capable Marlins squad. They seem to be answering the question in the latter direction. This next homestand, 7 games versus those same Mets and the not-clicking but still dangerous Cardinals, can get us further away from the idea that great play from this team is a fluke.
This series with the Mets is also important in the micro sense because the Nats can continue to force the Mets to play catch-up for a while with another win. Playing catch-up can be hard psychologically because you have to maintain your high level of play long enough not only to get to the team ahead of you but to pass them. Often you may accomplish the former only to slide a few games back soon after. It just happened in fact as the Mets took the division lead for 4 days two weeks ago. Or think of the Nats last season who twice climbed hills with runs of 18-4 and 11-3, only to see those leads slip away. The season becomes a bit easier for the team ahead because a loss or two isn't the end of the world. You are still ahead. And since losing the lead is often because of an extended period of good play by the other team it can be spun as "ok they had their hot streak, now it's our turn", rather than worrying if they are pulling away or you are fading. It begins to feel like the team ahead is the better team that must be beaten.
On the other hand if the Mets win the series then they set up the dogfight scenario we expected from the season. The Mets a half game up or up by 1.5 would be the rival the Nats would have to scoreboard watch nightly. A loss or two here would be a big deal and an extended run by them or crash by you sets up a chase scenario. The teams feel more equal in this scenario as they fight to stay close to eachother hoping to catch a hot run or for the other team to stumble.
This is all just feelings more than facts, especially at this point in the year. What feels like an insurmountable lead can disappear in a week in baseball even when we feel sure we know what these teams are. However, I've been looking to define the Nats all year and after a couple of false starts I might find myself with a good sense of what this team really is.
Other notes :
Ben Revere is finally having balls in play break his way as pretty much everyone said would happen. 7-14 in last few games and the average is up to .182. As long as you don't expect more than a bunch of singles from Ben Revere you'll be happy. Rendon too is having things go his way as expected 10-20 in past week, with 4 XBH, and 5 walks.
Scherzer had another good outing. So if for some reasons you were still on the edge of despair with him, get away from that edge. He did of course give up a home run but the walks were down again. He's not 2015 Max, but 2012-2014 Max were great pitchers too.
If you're looking for something new to worry about. Joe Ross might be the next thing up. His May has been decidedly blah (4.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP) and his last three starts especially have been unimpressive. Not that this is too big a worry. Roark looks fine and even these numbers are ok for a 5th starter. But for those looking at Ross as a #2 type it'd be nice to see a good start in one of his next two outings. He'll have STL next - who still have a great offense. After that will be Philly, who struggle to score even at home.
The Nats schedule isn't hard coming up but it isn't easy. They'll play 4 versus a Cardinals team I maintain is dangerous to finish up the homestand. Then they'll go away to the lucky Phillies, and terrible Reds, before ending the road trip with a tough White Sox team. Back home they'll get the Phillies again and then the Cubs. It's an overall stretch where if they beat the Mets .500 will probably be ok. The Nats schedule went easy - hard - but for the rest of the year it's pretty even assuming the NL East teams hold up. If the Mets are on their tail, they'll have their best chance to get separation, in late June as a @SD, @LA, @MIL road trip flows into an NYM, CIN, MIL homestand. Although I don't like to count on west coast trips for anything.
How is the Mets schedule after this series? They get the disappointing Dodgers and the White Sox at home then go on the road to play Miami, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. About the same. The Mets schedule for the rest of the year probably skews a bit tougher overall but they also have an easy stretch in Sept (@CIN, @ATL, @WSN, MIN, ATL). If things are close past the Nats/Mets series around Labor Day you probably give the Mets an edge down the home stretch. But a lot of baseball between then and now.