After 83 games - roughly the halfway point of the season - I started working on a big reader poll about the first half of the season, what the Nationals should do in July, how they should handle key decisions coming up, etc. But I think I'll save that for this time next week, when we're at the All-Star break and everyone's in a more retrospective mood.
So instead, I started looking at the National League standings this morning and realized something: Against the National League, the Nationals are almost a .500 team.
Their June swan dive was (mostly) perfectly timed with the interleague schedule, against which the Nationals went 5-13. Granted, they had a soft interleague slate, with the Indians, Royals and Orioles accounting for 12 of those 18 games, but they were 5-7 against those teams. Against the White Sox and Tigers, they got swept twice.
But against the National League? It's a different story. The Nationals are 15-15 against the East, 9-9 against the Central and 7-10 against the West, for a total record of 31-34. And since they've gotten back into NL games this week, they're 3-4 against the Braves and Mets, who would both be in the playoffs if they started today.
Now, the other problem here is the road record; the Nationals have been atrocious away from home, playing 15-29 baseball. But of those 29 losses, eight came in American League parks.
Let's say the Nationals keep up that .477 winning percentage against NL teams in the second half. They'd wind up with 38 more wins and finish at 74-88, a 15-game improvement over last year. Their current .433 pace would put them at 70-92. That's better, but avoiding 90 losses is a whole lot easier to stomach.
And if they were to make a surge in the standings, they'd have plenty of opportunities to do it; they have 42 games remaining against division opponents, and an additional 13 against teams that are ahead of them in the wild-card race.
All this is to say that against the National League, the Nationals have been a better team than their record shows. And with interleague play out of the way, they've got some time, maybe not to get back in the playoff race (barring the kind of hot streak the Nationals keep saying they haven't had yet), but at least to finish with a record that looks like a significant upgrade over last year.