That's the trade deadline. That's the last date where Mike Rizzo, if he truly believed that 2012 was going to be the first real step to the playoffs, could deal some veteran talent for prospects. The last time he could deal a useful player on the wrong side of 30 for organizational depth.
And he would need to do it. If the Nats were to compete in 2012 and beyond, then in the next few years the young talent would have to go out from the Nats organization rather than into it. Except the Nats organization is still not very deep. It has talent but relatively it is still a middle third (10-20) ranked organization. Scratch the surface of the Nats minor leagues and you find something. Dig a little deeper and it's not as impressive. A few deals and suddenly the minors could be barren again.
But in the next few games the Nats could pull over .500, within a few games of the Wild Card lead. If they come out of the next 9 inter-league contests within a game of where they entered (or better) then there is going to be incredible pressure from the fans and the team to skip over this last trade period, to "believe in the guys". Winning suddenly becomes dangerous.
It's not that it's better if the Nats lose. Win or lose Rizzo is in control and can do what he needs to. And it's not that the Nats chances of winning will collapse if they don't deal. But I can't help but feel this is all taking place a year early. Instead of a team coming into its own we have a team riding some unexpectedly good performances (Morse, Nix, Marquis). That to start the push now to the playoffs would be doing it at the earliest possible moment, rather than the one planning and reason would suggest is best.
I may sound repetitive but this is going to be the driving topic for the next month barring a complete Nationals collapse. The Nats are exactly where Rizzo thought they would be. Challenging .500 with a promising 2012. What he might not have expected was that this mild success would be enough to give hope for fans and the team and make them want to push for the playoffs now.
(I'll admit, a tiny part of me wants the Nats to go 0-9 with Marquis getting bombed twice just to see the reaction of everyone when they finally come around to trading Marquis only to see that his value has plummeted. "But I don't want him any more! Why can't we just trade him for Mike Trout?" If they can't make the playoffs (what the larger part wants), I root for what amuses me.)