The Washington Nationals just ended a four-game series in Miami, where they took 2 of 4 games from the Marlins. The first-place Nationals are 4-5 against the fish, and still have 8 games left to play against them this season. The Marlins played "small ball" and were quite successful, bunting runners over to prevent double plays and implementing the suicide squeeze.
Now the Nationals are back home to face the up-and-down Mets, with Thursday's game being the one to watch (Gio Gonzalez pitching against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey). Then the Braves come to town for four, including a double-header on Saturday (to make up a game that was rained out earlier this year). For double-headers, teams are allowed to activate a 26th player, so it is most certain that John Lannan will be called up from minor-league Syracuse to pitch one of the two games. Lannan is a well-paid ($5 million this season) minor-leaguer who is itching to return to the big leagues, and if he does well on Saturday, may even replace Stephen Strasburg in the starting rotation once Strasburg has reached his innings limit for the season. Lannan needs to have his best stuff on Saturday; he's been inconsistent so far in the minors and is facing a rotation that is way better than those he was a part of in years past.
Then there's Ian Desmond. The all-star shortstop decided to skip the All-Star Game so he could rest his sore left oblique, but after the 4-day rest, his swing looked worse and the poor guy ended up having to bunt for a single in last Saturday's game because he said he just couldn't swing the bat without pain. Now Desmond has sat out the last 2 games and says he's feeling better, so hopefully he can jump back into the lineup for the Mets series and pick up right where he left off before the all-star break (Desmond was batting .407 in his last 15 games, with 16 RBI and 14 extra-base hits).
So the standings could look very different by the end of this week, with the red-hot Braves just 2 1/2 games behind the Nationals. The next 7 games are the most important ones so far this season for the Nationals, and they can't just rely on their solid pitching to win them. Ryan Zimmerman needs to stay hot, Ian Desmond has to get back into it, and Jesús Flores needs to be able to throw out baserunners trying to steal. It's going to be an interesting week, my friends; stay tuned!