Marty Niland: Losses to Marlins tough to swallow, but Nats have bigger fish to fry

For Nationals fans, the only thing uglier than that rotating home run display in Marlins Park is the result of the series just concluded there: a three-game sweep that soured what had been a fine National League East road trip.

With at least one series now in hand against each NL East opponent, the Nats have an 11-6 overall division mark - 4-2 against Philadelphia, 2-1 against the Mets and 3-0 against Atlanta. The only blemish is a 2-3 record against the new-look Marlins, continuing the Nats' futility against the Florida/Miami franchise.

Since moving to Washington, they are 49-81 against the Fish, with only one winning season against them, in 2007. That 10-8 mark allowed the Nats to edge out the Marlins by two games for fourth place.

Perhaps because the Marlins haven't been a dominant team during the Nats' existence, losing to the Marlins is about a easy for Nats fans to swallow as one of the Red Porch restaurant's monstrous Strasburgers. Even though the Nats came into 2012 with a lifetime losing mark against every NL East team and had a similar record against the Phillies (49-79), losing to the Marlins was a source of shame.

However, even the best teams have "cousins" in their division, and recent history shows it hasn't kept them from taking the title or even dominating the division. Take the most recent kings of the NL East hill, the Phillies. Throughout their run of five straight division championships, they've gone .500 or worse against at least one division team each year and have still won by racking up stellar division records.

The Nats themselves were the bugaboos for last year's 102-win team, taking 10 of 18 games. But the Phils went 35-19 against the rest of the division and coasted to a 13-game victory. In 2010, they split the season series with the Mets, but their 44-28 division mark helped them to a six-game victory. In their pennant-winning campaign of 2009, the Phillies went 8-10 against Atlanta and 9-9 against the Marlins, yet still managed to put together a 44-28 division record and take the division by six games. The Phillies were 8-10 against the Marlins and 7-11 against the Mets in their World Series championship year of 2008 but went 41-31 in the division.

The 2007 campaign, when the Phillies passed the Mets on the final day of the season, is prime example of why a winning division record is so important. The Phillies went 9-9 against both Florida and Atlanta, yet went 42-30 in the division. The hard-luck Mets? They had a winning record against only one NL East team, Atlanta, and went 35-37 overall.

Playing a division-heavy schedule, NL East games will be important for the Nats if they want to hold onto first place. While losing to the Marlins can be tough to take, the Nats can help themselves by continuing their winning ways against everyone else.

Marty Niland blogs about the Nationals for D.C. Baseball History. His thoughts on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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