By The Rex Factor

The Washington Nationals have a comfortable lead in the National League East. They and Houston almost have to be considered locks to win their respective divisions despite less than 50 percent of the season being played.

Yet the Nationals lost a home series this week to the middling Atlanta Braves.

The Braves won two out of three to move to 29-36 in advance of their longest homestand of the season. They go back to Cobb County and their new stadium to entertain the Marlins, Giants and Brewers on 10 straight days before heading to the West Coast to wrap up the month.

Atlanta banged out 40 hits (at least 10 in each game) in Washington, winning on Monday in rallying fashion, 11-10. They lost 10-5 Tuesday before thumping the Nationals 13-2 in the Wednesday afternoon finale. This comes on the heels of the Braves getting just 26 hits and six total runs in the four games at home against the Mets last weekend. The 29 runs scored in D.C. were the most that Atlanta has scored in any series all season.

It should obviously come as no surprise that the Braves rank in the middle of the pack in offense after seeing those streaky statistics. The Mets have a stacked pitching staff that should overpower Atlanta's offense, except that many of the top-end Mets pitchers have been disabled. Seth Lugo shut them down last week in his first start of the season. 

Atlanta ranks 16th in runs scored, but a big part of the problem is that they are 26th in home runs, meaning they can get guys on base, but the bloop-and-a-blast concept that many teams are using this season is still not en vogue as of now in Georgia. After all, the Braves racked up 51 hits in a four-game set against Pittsburgh in late May.

Shortstop Dansby Swanson is considered a top MLB prospect and could well be the face of the franchise for many years if all goes well. He's hitting .378 in June and .271 since May 1. This comes on the heels of a .134 start in the first 21 games; he's hitting two times better than that since then.

Yet, it's hard to ignore the fact that since the aforementioned Pittsburgh series, the Braves have plated three runs or less in 12 of 20 games. Predictably, Atlanta has only won eight of those games. The surprising fact is that two of them came in DC on the heels of three straight home losses to the Mets, yet the Nationals lead the Mets by 8.5 games, and Atlanta by 10. But the Braves have the same win-loss record as their expected win-loss record. No surprises.

Baseball is full of curiosities that generally get resolved over 162 games, the course of a season. Washington has had a shaky bullpen that has contributed to some of the struggles, but the NL East leaders are still 10-7 in one-run games, which is nothing too abnormal. What stands out with Washington is their 12-16 record in day games, which is a noteworthy difference from its gaudy 27-10 mark at night. In the end, the series that the Braves played in Washington came down to them thumping the Nationals in the rubber game on Wednesday, which was played in the daytime. Coincidence?

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