There was a point at which the Florida Marlins' mastery of the Nationals looked to be a thing of the past. The Nationals went 6-6 in their last 12 games against the Marlins in 2009, ending a run of 20 losses in 23 games, and followed it up by starting this year 3-3 against them.
The Marlins looked like a team that would merely play the Nationals competitively, not pound them into submission the way they did in 2008, when they took 14 of 17 against Washington and were deprived of a 15th win only because of a rainout in the season finale.
We might be heading back to that territory, though. The Nationals' 5-0 loss to the Marlins on Thursday night, delayed two hours by rain, sure looked like it could have been the missing final game of the 2008 season.
Florida took an early lead on Mike Stanton's home run (and sixth consecutive hit). Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco had the Nationals guessing at his two breaking balls all night. They even found the beneficial spots in umpire Mike Winters' strike zone; manager Jim Riggleman was grousing about a few calls after the game.
The loss capped a sweep, giving Florida five wins in their last six games against the Nationals, three of them shutouts. At the end of it, the pecking order sure looked like it was back in place.
Florida outscored Washington 22-7 in the series. They became the first team to knock Stephen Strasburg out of a game. The Marlins are 8-4 against the Nationals this season, and in the last three years, they're 34-13.
"We've played the Marlins in some great ballgames - they've got us, we've got them," Riggleman said. "But lately, they've got the best of us. They're playing good baseball. They really are. They're playing good, they're pitching good."
In many areas, the Marlins are what the Nationals still are not. They boast a product of their farm system or a shrewd trade at almost every position, whether it's twin Rookie of the Year candidates Gaby Sanchez and Stanton or All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez. Their rotation is stocked with young, homegrown arms (Josh Johnson, Nolasco and Chris Volstad), and though they'd dipped from wild-card contention in 2009 to fourth place early in 2010, they're back a game over .500 now with the sweep of the Nationals, sitting on the fringes of the playoff picture, with a commitment to raise their payroll in coming years and a new stadium on the way.
That they appear to be back to thumping the Nationals doesn't bode well for the future, not when the Braves have the young talent to stay competitive for a while and the Phillies are coming off two straight National League titles.
Early this season, when the Marlins stumbled to start the year and fired manager Fredi Gonzalez, it looked like the Nationals might be able to make up ground on Florida in their development. That doesn't appear to be the case anymore, at least not right now. And with six games this year remaining against the Marlins, the line between the two teams could get even clearer.
"Always in baseball, you've got somebody (that has your number)," starter Livan Hernandez said.