As the Nationals have climbed back toward the .500 mark in the last two months, nudging their way up the division standings and getting a brief chance to see how things look from third place, there's been one little point to consider: They haven't made much of their climb against division opponents.
If there's been anywhere the Nationals have struggled this season, it's in the NL East. They're 14-21 against division foes, and since June 10, they're 21-16 having played only three games against a team in the East.
Those three games came against the Braves last weekend; the Nationals lost two of them, before dropping a pair of winnable series against the Astros and the Dodgers. And if they want to keep themselves relevant, they'll have to respond with a good week against the the division teams they haven't been able to beat.
Their nine-game homestand, which begins tonight at Nationals Park, features three games apiece against the Marlins, Mets and Braves, The Nationals are 11-15 against those teams this year. And by the time they head back out on the road, they could either be back in third place in the division or stuck in last place for the first time since they started playing better baseball.
It's been no secret that several teams - the Phillies and Marlins, especially - have feasted on the Nationals to boost their records over the last few years. If the Nationals want to make a move up in the division at some point, they'll have to start by beating the teams against whom they compete most frequently. Tonight, then, is a good chance for them to test their mettle and see how far they've really come.