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Phil Wood: Excitement about Nationals has no limit

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Tuesday's win over the Mets gave the Nationals a 32-22 record after 54 games, the one-third pole of the 2012 season. Using the flimsiest piece of logic I can find, repeating that twice more should produce 96 wins and the division title, right?

Well, I told you it was flimsy.

The way the teams in the NL East are bunched together at the moment lends some credence to the possibility that this race will go down to the last couple weeks of the season. And with the addition of a second wild-card team in each league -- and the potential need for additional playoff games to determine who the wild cards will be -- there seems to be lots to look forward to.

One NL scout I spoke with last week said he could see the NL East race coming down to three teams: Washington, Miami and Atlanta.

"The Phillies are a lost cause this year, and I can see the Mets' bubble bursting in the next month," he said.

He added that both wild cards could come from the East and that starting pitching depth -- or lack thereof -- will tell the tale.

That brings us to the never-ending debate that swirls around Stephen Strasburg, his innings limit and who ultimately will take his slot in the Nats' rotation.

In his first 11 starts, Strasburg averaged roughly six innings. With a season limit of 160, Strasburg should be pretty close to that in early September, though there are reasons to believe he will get further into the month.

Reason No. 1: The All-Star break will allow for some rotation shuffling should they choose to do that. It's a four-day break, but there's the real possibility that Strasburg could end up on the NL All-Star team and actually get into the game, which could add minimally to his innings count. Don't think for a second that Tony La Russa would avoid using him because of some arbitrary club innings limit.

Reason No. 2: The Nationals are playing a traditional single admission doubleheader Aug. 3 against Miami to make up for the game rained out April 22. They still haven't announced when the June 1 rainout against Atlanta will be made up, but those extra games also could impact Strasburg's schedule.

The presence of Ross Detwiler in the bullpen gives Washington a spare starter on hand. Their obvious reluctance to trade John Lannan -- on option to Syracuse -- despite interest from several teams indicates Mike Rizzo's belief that you can never have too many starting pitchers.

There's a palpable buzz around town regarding the Nats these days. Their attendance is on pace to crack 2 million for the first time since 2005, and more fans are sticking around for the final out. For the Nationals, the final out in 2012 may not happen for a few weeks after game 162.

It's a pleasant thought.

Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at philwood@washingtonexaminer.com.

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