After four long days without baseball (at least, anything other than the exhibition variety) the Nationals are back on the field tonight, hosting the Brewers in a nice weekend showdown between first-place clubs. Thus begins the unofficial second half of the season, the final 70-game stretch that will determine whether this team returns to the playoffs after missing out last fall, or whether October baseball simply isn't in the cards again.
What will determine whether the Nationals get back there or not? There are any number of factors and players that will play a role in deciding this team's fate. But here are the five most-significant ones, the top storylines of the second half of the season for a ballclub with grand visions of extending this season well beyond Game 162. We'll count down from No. 5 to No. 1...
5. WILL STEPHEN STRASBURG STEP UP AND BECOME THE ACE, OR IS THIS SIMPLY WHO HE IS?
For the record, there's nothing particularly wrong with who Strasburg is at this point of his career. He's a very good pitcher, the league leader in strikeouts, capable of completely dominating an opposing lineup anytime he takes the mound. But it's no secret that more much than that has been expected of Strasburg for some time, and he'd be the first to admit that he has not lived up to his full potential.