Washington Nationals starting pitcher Joe Ross throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Tuesday, May 31, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

After a treacherous run in the schedule which saw the Nationals play .500 ball against some of the better teams in Major League Baseball over the last month or so, these next three weeks versus some of the bottom feeders of the sport should give the Nats a chance to solidify their hold on first place in the National League East division.  With one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball coinciding with what is honestly one of the worst offenses, the time is now for the team to become a cohesive unit that gets contributions from all phases, and that is actually happening bit by bit.

Ryan Zimmerman (although now out for paternity leave) and Anthony Rendon have picked up their individual games tremendously when being compared to what they were bringing to the table the first five weeks or so into the season.  Zimmerman, while still not completely comfortable, has raised his overall batting average more than 30 points in a month from his .219 low at the end of April to .250, along with seven home runs and 17 RBIs.  Rendon has been on a tear himself, hitting the ball with much more ferocity with four homers and 16 RBIs in the past month.

 If only the Nationals can keep improving around Bryce Harper, who slumped so much that his average has dropped 80 points from his April “Player of the Month” hot streak.  He continues to grab base-on-balls at a record pace with a league-leading 31 walks, but Harper is clearly frustrated by the lack of hittable pitches he sees on a daily basis.  Harper is getting the “Barry Bonds treatment,” but there is one considerable difference in the two situations. While Bonds was in his mid-30s and had already been the greatest hitter in the generation for more than a decade, Bryce is still a young player still learning to perfect his craft.  He’s patient as heck, but when he does get a pitch to hit he has to do damage and he just isn’t at the time.  Maybe with Zimmerman hitting as well as he has it would change the approach of these opposing pitchers towards Harper so the man can continue to wreak the type of damage we all saw from him in April.

Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper hits a single off Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Brandon Finnegan in the fourth inning of a baseball game, Friday, June 3, 2016, in Cincinnati. The Reds won 7-2. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper hits a single off Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Brandon Finnegan in the fourth inning of a baseball game, Friday, June 3, 2016, in Cincinnati. The Reds won 7-2. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

With Harper’s struggles, Daniel Murphy continues to be the story of the baseball season, hitting a robust .416 in the month of May with seven home runs and 23 RBIs, becoming the second straight Nationals player to win Player of the Month in the National League. The three-year, $37.5 million contract he signed in the offseason looks like one of the best bargains in the sport.  Now, no one should expect Murphy to continue to rake in as much as he has for the duration of the season. But that was said about him in April and he was even better in May.  If he can go into the All Star break close to the .400 mark, it would be one of the greatest individual feats ever witnessed on a day-to-day basis.

With the batting lineup still finding its way, the pitching staff continues to excel, except for the unravelling of Gio Gonzalez, who once again was lit up for five earned runs in just six innings in a 7-2 loss on June 3. That ended the Nationals four-game winning streak, which coincidentally started after Gio’s last start.  In his last three starts, Gonzalez has 18 runs in only 15 innings.  His ERA has jumped two whole points from 1.86 on May 18 to 3.94 currently.  At this point, team manager Dusty Baker may have to make a decision about his place in the starting rotation. Although, he is a lefty, he cannot continue to put this team in precarious positions game after game.

Hopefully, with this easier stretch of games,  Gonzales and the rest of the team can round out into form and prepare themselves for some meaningful mid-summer baseball.