The Nats head out to San Francisco holding onto a nice lead in the NL East of 4 games. It isn't a safe lead, nor is it a worrying one. It's nice. The goal would be to keep that nice lead for another dozen games or so, when the schedule will make tripping up far more difficult to do. At that point you'd expect either the Nats to pull away, or if they don't, it to be because either the Mets or Marlins are going on a tear. You can't really do much about those.
The Mets don't look like they'll be going on a tear anytime soon. They have alternated wins and losses since the break, pushed forward by an excellent pitching staff (3.2 R/G) but anchored by a dead offense (3 R/G). The Mets found themselves in a similar situation last trade deadline, 52-48 at this point in the year, when they made a series of trades to remake the offense. But that was an easy situation to fix, where the holes were glaringly obvious starting guys like Eric Campbell and John Mayberry. This season it's not as easy as guys you want starting like Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera are slumping, guys you have to start like D'Arnaud haven't hit all year, and a Cespedes infusion isn't coming because he's already here. The only real move would be to get an OF and stop relying on youngsters like Conforto/Nimmo to help but the Mets don't seem interested in dealing. They are going to roll with what they have and hope for another August miracle at the plate.
Miami is closer, and the question is how long this improved pitching and team-carrying offense can go on. I'm not very sure. A couple weeks like this happens all the time to nearly every team, but extended month long runs, the type the Marlins will need to stay in it, are something else. The problem is the starting pitching. Chen remains a disaster, which means everyone else has to be on. Jose Fernandez is a given. I'll accept that. Beyond him, maybe Adam Conley can keep pitching well enough to be the #2 to Fernandez's #1. Maaaaybe converted reliever Jose Urena can keep giving the Marlins solid 5 inning outings. and Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaybe Tom Koehler can remain oddly unhittable to compensate for his complete lack of missing bats. But all three? For another two months? The hitting then will have to keep it up and they just might. Stanton has gotten back in his groove which makes the whole lineup so much better and Prado is doing his Prado things again. I suppose it's possible they bash their way into the playoffs but I'm still holding off worrying about this team unless they stand a couple games out when the Nats last hard run comes to an end. Given that rotation they have to prove they can hang on.
As for the Nats fans are worried about Bryce and relief pitching but honestly the team is basically keeping on as it has for the season. The hitting may be a tweak worse since the break, the pitching in a little more of a slump, but both were Top 5 in the league so the minor departures don't drop them to any sort of level that would worry me.
If you want to dig a little deeper. Offensively what would worry me most is Espinosa. I still have faith Bryce will hit. He's never not. He hasn't reached his potential before last year but he always hit. Espinosa on the other hand has a history of NOT hitting and a slump late in last year after hitting ok much of the year. It's completely possible, in my eyes, that he could put up an under .500 OPS the rest of the way. Normally you'd replace him with Turner or Drew, but Turner is replacing the Revere/Taylor failure in CF and Drew is out. So there isn't an answer here. Also Robinson/Zimmerman still aren't hitting either. But these are known problems the Nats have overcome. Adding a potential 3rd spot not hitting for the rest of they year in Danny would be something new.
As for Bryce, all I can do is make guesses. Everything we talked about before holds true. I checked out the zone stats since the break. He's still getting pitched low and away. He's still swinging too often at pitches below the knees and he's still swinging too often at pitches in which are not his sweetspots. But he's striking out a lot more, popping up, pulling everything. All that's new. If I were to guess I'd say he's super frustrated and just looking for anything that isn't low and away and trying to kill it. But I'm not watching film.
Pitching wise it's about the 5th starter slot and the closer. That's about it. Ross isn't healthy yet and neither Lopez or Giolito look ready to step in and be a good pitcher for 2016. But given that everyone else in the rotation seems fine if either can be a passable #5, and I think they can, then that's enough. A mediocre start every 5th day for two months isn't going to derail a season. As for the closer.... You can go different ways with this. We talked about a trade yesterday, which is the direction I endorse.* Sticking with Papelbon seems the worst idea to me. He might be beginning to lose control (walked at least one in last three outings) and that had been his saving grace. He's been hit hard all year but usually balls in plays are outs and if you don't walk guys you can survive. Still even if he regains control having a guy so prone to being hit doesn't seem like a good idea against the line-ups you'll likely see in the playoffs. Kelley could take over but he's scuffling a bit now and he's never really pitched a normal amount of innings. He's topped 55 once since 2008. What would he be like in the playoffs? You could try someone else, Treinen, Rivero, Lopez throw it at the wall and see if it sticks. Whatever is decided won't likely kill the Nats in regards to the East, it's more a matter of how confident do you want to feel in October.
The Nats aren't exactly where I wanted them to be right now, but they are close and with a little luck could be there in 12 games. Make "nice" into "safe" guys.
*Robles and Lopez for Miller is what I would do, in case you are wondering. I would not offer Turner or Giolito for anyone as I like both to be impactful in 2017 and I think you can get what you want without offering either.