Though the Atlanta Braves have somehow figured out the formula to dominate the Nats in head-to-head matchups, lately they've had much bigger things to worry about.
Since beginning the season 17-7, Atlanta is 44-53 in the time since. As Mark Zuckerman noted on Thursday, only the Phillies and Rockies have been worse among NL teams.
Lately the bottom has completely fallen out. With their 6-4 loss to the Dodgers on Thursday, Atlanta's lost 12 of their last 15.
Take out their weekend series win against the Nats on Aug. 8-10 and the Braves have one win against a team not named the Nationals since July 28. That's a span of 17 days, more than half of a month. Throughout this season, the Braves are just 52-56 against teams other than the Nats. [Update: Friday is 'Zombie Night' at Turner Field, you can't make this stuff up]
The Braves now sit six games back of the Nationals in the NL East, the biggest lead Washington has enjoyed since Sept. 15, 2012. Yes, even when they finished that season with an MLB-best 98 wins, they still weren't up this much.
The Braves' collapse has another NL East team preparing to take advantage. The Miami Marlins are seven games back of Washington and one game behind Atlanta in third place. The Marlins have won five of their last seven and hold a significant scheduling advantage up ahead.
The Braves enter this weekend with a three-game series against the best team in baseball, the Oakland Athletics. The A's are 73-48 and completely demolished the Nationals when they met in mid-May. The Braves host Oakland before then going on the road to face 64-57 Pittsburgh, another tough matchup.
The Marlins, conversely, have a relatively easy stretch coming up. They play 52-69 Arizona this weekend before facing the two worst teams in baseball: the Texas Rangers and the Colorado Rockies, both tied for last in the majors at 47-74.
Miami could very well pass the Braves and take over second place as soon as this weekend. With all the injuries to their pitching staff, however, do they have enough to make a push? There is a lot of ground to make up, but the Nats and Marlins do finish their season with four games against each other in a three-day span.
The Nationals themselves are no juggernaut. Right now they're playing at an 89 to 90-win pace, nowhere near what they were two years ago. At 66-53 through 119 games, they would be no better than second place in most years. Each of the last six seasons in the NL East had at least one better record at this point. If it were 2011, they'd be in third place.
The 2014 Nats may not be the best team we have seen around here, but they are clearly the class of their division at the moment. Until October begins, that's all that matters.