Previewing how the NL postseason landscape is shaping up

With less than a third of the season to go, the Nationals are putting it all together and sucking all the drama out of the race in the National League East.

The Cubs, leaders in the NL Central who struggled before the All-Star break, have gotten their swagger back.

The story line is different with the Giants, who lost their weekend series to the Nationals in D.C. and are having to do all they can to hold off the Dodgers in the NL West. They are 6-15 since the All-Star break, the worst record in baseball.

But with the Giants, a team that won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014, you never know. They've lost 14 of their last 17 games in Washington, but Nationals fans can't forget how they beat the local nine in the Division Series in 2014.

That's why it was important for the Nationals to beat the Giants two of three to give the Nationals the season-series edge. If the two teams meet in October, the Nationals will get the home-field advantage.

Nationals manager Dusty Baker pointed out that his team lost to the Dodgers and Cubs, so it was important to beat the Giants in a season series, especially in a tight 1-0 game that had playoff implications as well as a playoff atmosphere.

Considering that the Giants have won nine consecutive postseason series, the Nationals need every break they can get.

This year feels different for the Nationals, now in their 12th season in Washington. In 2012 and 2014, they had the best record in the National League, but they couldn't beat St. Louis or San Francisco in the Division Series.

This year, the Nationals are a more complete team. They have more balance. Stephen Strasburg is the favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award, but Tanner Roark and Max Scherzer will get votes.

Their rotation is the deepest in the league. The bullpen has come together nicely with the addition of closer Mark Melancon and his signature cutter. He and Shawn Kelley closed out the 1-0 win against the Giants Sunday and that's the stability the Nationals will need down the stretch and into October.

The Nationals are fourth in run production in the NL, and yet, they aren't hitting on all cylinders. Daniel Murphy has a chance to win an MVP and batting title. Wilson Ramos' bat has been a surprise. Trea Turner has given the leadoff spot production with a good on-base percentage, threatening speed and a lot of triples.

And yet, Bryce Harper, 23, the reigning NL MVP, has been in a three-month slump. Ryan Zimmerman is on the disabled list with a wrist injury.

The Cubs, after getting beat in the National League Championship Series by the Mets last season, are getting stronger as August rolls along. Memories of their 6-15 finish before the break are fading in the distance.

Jake Arrieta is back to his dominating self. In fact, the Cubs' pitching staff has regained its form and the lineup is scoring runs in key situations. Pitcher Kyle Hendricks has been unhittable in the second half. And lefty Aroldis Chapman, acquired from the Yankees, makes their bullpen deeper.

Ben Zobrist, the second baseman the Nationals tried to get in the offseason before they signed Murphy, has broken out from the 0-for-18 slump that began the second half. The Cubs aren't scoring runs in bunches, but they are getting enough to survive and take advantage of the stingiest pitching staff in the league.

The Giants are on a three-city East Coast trip and their manager, Bruce Bochy, says that they are confident the winning is going to come back. They think they could have won Sunday, but outfielder Ben Revere's sensational catch to rob Brandon Belt in the seventh inning changed the game.

Revere hasn't contributed much with his bat, but his defensive play was huge for the Nationals.

The Giants' problem is scoring runs. At the break, they had the fourth-best run production in the league. Since the break, they've scored 72, second-to-last in the league. Belt, the first baseman, has had the biggest dropoff.

The Giants were aggressive at the trade deadline. They added third baseman Eduardo Nunez, a .300 hitter who was leading the American League with 26 steals when Minnesota traded him. They also added Will Smith of the Brewers to their bullpen and Matt Moore of Tampa Bay to their rotation, pushing Jake Peavy to the bullpen.

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