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Washington Nationals bats sit in the bat rack in the dugout at PNC Park before a baseball game again (AP Photo Gene J. Puskar)

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Washington Nationals moving to Washington, D.C., from Montreal, the team has highlighted several key moments during the last decade with the fans.  But one moment that Nationals fans haven’t had a chance to experience during most of those 10 years is a pennant race—not until this year, at least.

Washington is finally experiencing a real live pennant race: Where fans do more scoreboard watching than ever before, where every at-bat is over-analyzed and every coaching move is criticized. It’s par for the course, Nats Nation. Welcome to the 2015 National League East pennant race.

This will be a two-team race for one divisional title.  Neither the Nats nor the New York Mets will probably win enough games to secure a wild card berth, so this is for all of the marbles.  Good luck to your fragile heart, fandom; it will be broken on numerous occasions.

As a baseball franchise, the Nats in the past just haven’t had to play really gut-wrenching baseball until the playoffs officially started. The two division titles that the Nationals won in 2012 and 2014 weren’t races at all; they were virtual cakewalks for the crown—the Nationals won by four games in 2012 and an unheard of 17 games ahead of the second place Atlanta Braves in 2014.

This season may turn into one of the greatest moments for this franchise going forward.  Bryce Harper has never taken truly meaningful regular season at-bats, the type of at-bats that linger for a whole winter.  Stephen Strasburg has never pitched a huge late-September game where, if he doesn’t gut out a quality start, he may be home in October.

In most cities, as the ‘90s R&B singing group Dru Hill once sang, “These are the times we all wish for….” And, in all honesty, these next 60 games aren’t going to be about how good this roster is, or how fans should be patient with the development of the young players on the team. It’s going to be about making winning plays in winning moments, something the Nats – for all of its recent success – seem to have difficulty doing.

Team manager Matt Williams continues to make poor decisions with his bullpen selections, as he did in two crushing defeats in New York in on July 31 and Aug. 1. Williams decided to sit newly acquired closing pitcher Jonathan Papelbon and left strong reliever Drew Storen on the bench for games for no particular reason. He won’t be able to get away with that in September.

Another area in question is Washington’s offense, which has a hard time executing the little things like moving the batter over via sacrifice, or pitchers not being able to get out of innings after two outs.  The truly good teams such as the Kansas City Royals, St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants have no problem in the execution of those little things and that is probably the main reason that those teams seem to advance in October and win championships.

Winning the close games – when things aren’t going perfect, and teams have to battle for each victory – will ultimately be the litmus test for a franchise that needs to show some testicular fortitude.  This race could be the catalyst for greater October success or the crumbling of the infrastructure. Stay tuned.