If you've ever wondered why the Washington Nationals have blown past the Phillies to become the best team in the National League East, you need look no further than the draft.

It is proof that tanking can work even in a sport with as many moving parts as baseball.

From 2005, the year that baseball returned to the nation's capital, through 2011, the last year the Phillies won their division, the Nationals made so many top picks that it would have been difficult for them not to become a contending team.

Washington had a total of eight picks in the top 15, seven in the top 10 and three in the top four during that seven-year stretch. Included among them were the first overall picks in 2009 and 2010 when they took Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.

By comparison, the Phillies had just two picks in the top 20 - Kyle Drabek at No. 18 in 2006 and Joe Savery at No. 19 in 2007 - during that same period. The Phillies went without a first-round pick in three of those years and did not draft higher than 24th from 2008 through 2012.

The highest of those picks was Anthony Hewitt at No. 24 and it did not help former scouting director Marti Wolever's cause that the high school kid from Brooklyn became a high-risk bust who topped out and struck out often at double-A Reading. Still, it is a lot easier to get it right when you're picking in the top 10 than it is when you're selecting where the Phillies were for much of this century.

This comes up now, of course, because another baseball draft is upon us. Wolever has been replaced by Johnny Almaraz, the former international scouting director with the Atlanta Braves, and the Phillies will pick 10th overall Monday night. It is the first time in this century that the team has had consecutive picks in the top 10.

To their credit, the Nationals did not mess up all those opportunities to make those high picks, although some years it would have been almost impossible to do so.

In 2005, for instance, the Nats took Ryan Zimmerman with the fourth overall pick. Three of the next seven picks were Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki and Andrew McCutchen.

The nucleus of the 2015 Nats came from all those high picks. In addition to Harper and Zimmerman, they got third baseman Anthony Rendon with the sixth overall pick in 2011 and used Alex Meyer, another first-round pick in the 2011 draft, to acquire Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins.

That's four starting position players who came as a result of first-round picks. Closer Drew Storen was the 10th overall pick in 2009, the same year the Nats selected Strasburg first overall.

Washington general manager Mike Rizzo also has made some shrewd trades to complement the core, and put them in a position to acquire free agents such as Max Scherzer. None of it happens, however, without all those high picks.

The 76ers will be fortunate if their tanking plan goes as well.

To a lesser extent, the draft also has helped resurrect the New York Mets, although they may still be too offensively challenged to be a playoff team.

The demise of the Mets - six straight losing seasons from 2009-14 - can be directly traced to the draft. The team did not have first-round picks in 2006, 2007 or 2009 because of the free-agent signings of Billy Wagner, Moises Alou and Francisco Rodriguez.

The turnaround started in 2010 when New York took Matt Harvey with the seventh overall pick. That, by the way, is the same place the Phillies selected Aaron Nola last year. In that same draft, the Mets got Jacob deGrom in the ninth round.

Draft patience and the trading of veterans for prospects also has helped the Mets become relevant again.

Lucas Duda was a seventh-round pick in 2007 who experienced some serious growing pains before developing into a true power hitter last season. He is having his best season this year at age 29.

The Mets also traded R.A. Dickey to get Noah Syndergaard from the Toronto Blue Jays, and Carlos Beltran to get Zach Wheeler from San Francisco. Those two are both former first-round picks who had solid minor-league track records by the time the Mets acquired them.

The Phillies, of course, acquired some young arms in offseason trades that could be in Philadelphia in the not-too-distant future. There is also a great chance that they will have a pick in the top five in next June's draft. The seeds for a franchise renewal are in place. The key is to make sure everything gets nurtured just right.

bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob