Taking stock of the Nats’ dwindling playoff hopes
By Andrew Simon
The Nationals saw a victory slip through their fingers in agonizing fashion on Thursday against the Giants, who snapped their five-game winning streak and put a damper on their flight to Atlanta for Friday’s series opener against the Braves.
On one hand, the Nats had righted themselves after a sweep by the Braves and closed their homestand on a 5-1 run. Catcher Kurt Suzuki felt the momentum was still there.
“We won two series in a row, going to Atlanta feeling good about ourselves,” he said. “Hey, you never know.”
With baseball, one never does know. Strange things happen. But at this point in the season, with the Nats clinging for dear life to the fringes of the playoff chase, every game takes on monumental importance. Washington can’t afford to have many more slip away.
Just how dire is the situation?
At 59-61, the Nats trail the Reds by 9 1/2 games and the D-backs by 3 1/2 for the second NL Wild Card spot (the Cardinals hold the first Wild Card and are only a half-game in front of Cincinnati). Odds calculated by Baseball Prospectus give the Nats a 1.7 percent chance to make the postseason, while the website coolstandings.com figures about the same, at 1.9 percent.
Of course, teams have come back from long odds before. Take the breathtaking 2011 season, which came down to the final day. The Rays’ playoff odds dipped as low as 0.5 percent on September 3, while the Cardinals’ chances fell to 1.1 percent on Aug. 27. Both teams stormed back to claim Wild Card berths, and St. Louis won the World Series. Even if it’s faint, there is hope.
If the Nats were to stage their own miraculous comeback, what would it look like? They have 42 games remaining, one more than the Reds. Putting aside the D-backs and assuming the Reds remain the team to catch for the second Wild Card, here are a handful of scenarios that would result in a tie:
Reds go 25-16 (.610)… Nats go 35-7 (.833)
Reds go 21-20 (.512) … Nats go 31-11 (.738)
Reds go 20-21 (.487) … Nats go 30-12 (.714)
Reds go 16-25 (.390)… Nats go 26-16 (.619)
There are several other factors to keep in mind as Washington tries to make this a reality.
- The Nats still haven’t won more than five straight all season and they have only three four-game winning streaks. Their best 10-game stretch is 7-3, and they’ve done that only a few times.
- They have limited chances to gain ground directly. Their season series with Cincinnati is finished. They do close their schedule with three against St. Louis and three against Arizona, games that could wind up being do or die.
- They just finished a nine-game homestand, part of a stretch in which they played 20 of 25 at Nationals Park. That leaves them with 26 road games and only 16 home contests remaining, not good news for a club with a 23-32 road record.
- They will need to take advantage of their 23 remaining games against the Mets, Phillies and Marlins, the three teams behind them in the division. The Nats are 20-14 so far in those season series. They also get four against the 52-68 Cubs. On the other hand, they’ll need to figure out a way to beat the Braves over six more meetings after starting 3-10 against them.
- The Reds play 23 of their final 41 at home, where they are 37-21. About half of their remaining schedule is against teams with winning records, including four against the D-backs and seven against the Cardinals. The D-backs play 24 of 43 on the road, where they are 26-31, but have only 14 left against winning teams.