The American League East and the National League East are considered the sport's two best divisions this season. Hard to argue against that. There are no bad teams in either division and six of the major league's 11 best clubs in run differential reside in one or the other. Looking at the last-place teams, the Boston Red Sox entered Tuesday with a plus-17 on the season while the Philadelphia Phillies are a minus-1 -- even without stars Chase Utley or Ryan Howard in the lineup. Both teams figure to rebound over the final 100 games. Even the surprising Orioles are just a minus-4. That's better than 14 other clubs. The only teams in either division headed for a fall appear to be the New York Mets (minus-19) and the Miami Marlins (minus-25).
Why is this important? Because these are the teams the Nats are beating right now. Beginning May 18, Washington was set to play 33 straight games against either NL East or AL East teams -- a season-defining stretch. Prior to Tuesday's game in Toronto, the Nats were 13-8 to start it. They have swept series in Atlanta and in Boston. Yet the heat gets turned up higher later this week when the Nats host the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays -- the two teams who entered Tuesday tied for first in the AL East and, arguably, the sport's top two clubs.
There is another gauntlet to run at the start of the second half next month with 20 of the first 24 games against division opponents before Aug. ?5. But for now Washington is more than holding its own against difficult competition. It might not take until September to find out if the Nats are for real.
- Brian McNally