It felt good for the Phillies to sweep the Marlins this weekend, even though yes, it was just the Marlins; and yes, it was coming off the Phillies getting swept themselves by the Brewers. The three-game equalizer put the Phils at 6-6, which is far more in contention than we expected them to be this late in the season.
But elsewhere in the NL East, teams are believing in themselves. The Nationals are the epitome of optimism, as ace Stephen Strasburg, infielder Danny Espinosa, and GM Mike Rizzo have all stated in the past week that the Nats are better than their likely top divisional rival for a few years, the Braves.
"They're good, I don't think they're better than us," Danny Espinosa said. "They're a good ballclub, they have talent. They're hot right now, they only lost one game, but they're hot. It all evens out."
--Danny Espinosa, via Chase Hughes of CSN Washington
"Honestly, I think our lineup's better," he said. "They're hot right now. It's early and it's not about how many wins you necessarily finish up with in April, it's how many you have at the end of the year."
--Stephen Strasburg, via Hughes
The Nationals have long felt that they were the NL's chosen ones; their terrible years netted them high draft picks in Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg; their first big free agent acquisition was Jayson Werth; Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann burst onto the scene as top hurlers; they dealt nothing for Doug Fister this offseason.
Despite having all the pieces, the young, highly sensitive, young, youthful Nats just haven't made it work. But that hasn't stopped them from assuming they will.
Back in 2012, they took two out of three from the Phillies in the rivalry's first series of the year and called it a "statement," despite one of their wins coming from a game in which the third base ump left due to illness and several crucial plays were missed at - get this - third base. They would go on to win the division, then be out-underdogged by the Cardinals in the NLCS.
Principal owner Mark Lerner crowned them the NL champions in 2013, months before the season even started. The Nationals did not even make the playoffs in 2013.
The Braves have their own weaknesses, but that hasn't gotten in the way of them decimating the Nationals.
A .280 winning percentage against a division rival in the past year probably shouldn't inspire confidence, and neither should losing three straight to them, culminating in a 10-2 loss yesterday.
The Braves have monsters in Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, and Justin Upton right now, while the Nationals keep cramming Bryce Harper further down in the lineup in hopes of... something... happening. The Braves' rotation has allowed 15 ER and five home runs in 73.3 innings. The Nationals' first two starters have allowed 15 ER by themselves.
The Nats aren't a bad team, but they are not as good as think they are. But hey, it's early. And confidence is important at their age. But mostly, curse you, the Nationals. Curse you for making me defend the Braves.