Look up and down the Nationals' team stats page -- ignoring their 26-18 record -- and try to come away convinced this is a first-place club. It's not easy.
Yes, the starting rotation continues to excel, with a 2.71 ERA and ridiculously good 3.68-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But that pitching dominance has overshadowed some other obvious flaws on this roster.
The starting second baseman has an embarrassingly low .649 OPS, and the starting center fielder isn't much better at .673. Yet the numbers at those positions look All-Star worthy when compared to the stats Nationals left fielders have collectively put up this season: a .153 batting average, .240 on-base percentage and .245 slugging percentage that adds up to a .485 OPS.
Meanwhile, the Face of the Franchise and star third baseman has only eight extra-base hits while hitting .167 with runners in scoring position. The shortstop has a .299 on-base percentage. And the new starting catcher is reaching base at a .280 clip.
There's no designated closer in the bullpen. But there are three long relievers, just in case that MLB-best rotation can't get through five innings on a consistent basis.
How again is this team in first place?
Well, there is that MLB-best rotation, which certainly covers up a lot of other flaws on the roster. And there's the surprising production the Nationals have gotten out of Adam LaRoche (.937 OPS) and Ian Desmond (.477 slugging percentage). And there's a 19-year-old in right field named Bryce Harper who seems to find a way to positively impact every game he plays.
There's another factor, though, one that's easy to overlook: Pretty much every other team in baseball is flawed, too.
Everyone's dealing with injuries. Everyone's trying to generate more offense. A lot of teams are struggling to find an effective closer.
The Nationals are just doing a better job compensating for their flaws than most.
Which isn't to say this isn't an extremely talented team. Several prominent national baseball writers covered this week's series in Philadelphia, and the following question was posed to them: If every team in the majors was 100 percent healthy, where would the Nationals rank?
The consensus opinion: The Texas Rangers are clearly the best team in the sport, but the Nationals would absolutely be in the discussion.
That's quite a remarkable thought to consider. A franchise that has yet to produce a winning season since arriving in the District is in the conversation for "best team in baseball" among a group of the most-knowledgeable writers in the business.
This, of course, guarantees nothing. For one thing, the Nationals are nowhere close to 100 percent healthy. And though there's hope they will get several key injured players (Michael Morse, Drew Storen, Brad Lidge, Jayson Werth) back in the next few months, there's no telling how they'll perform or what impact they've have on the club's fortunes.
There's also no telling how the current group will perform moving forward. Can LaRoche keep up his hot start (he's shown signs of fading over the last week)? Can Desmond continue to be among the most-productive shortstops in the majors? Can the rotation continue to dominate to this extent?
But if nothing else, the Nationals have put themselves in a position to find out. By taking advantage of their early season schedule and hot pitching staff, they managed to thrive at a time when plenty of other clubs around the sport were foundering.
There's a long way to go. But if the Nationals could play .600 baseball while dealing with so many injuries and other issues, who's to say they can't continue to do it once they have their full arsenal back in the dugout?