Monday, September 21, 2015

How Much Hope is Left?

So the Nationals have won 7 of their last 8 games. Over that same 8 game stretch, the Mets have gone 4-4, leaving the Nationals 6 games back of the NL East title today. Are the Nats drawing you back into this pennant race?

Mathematically, they are still alive. Realistically, I wrote them off a week agoFanGraphs puts the Nationals odds of making the playoffs at 2.2% as of this morning. So they are telling us there's a chance. The Nationals have played well, sure. Bryce Harper is still Bryce Harper-ing, Strasburg and Scherzer seem to have returned to form. Unfortunately, the hole the Nationals have dug themselves means this race is out of their control. The Mets magic number stands at 8 right now. That means that it only takes 8 Mets wins to mathematically eliminate the Nationals. A Nationals loss also drops that magic number down closer to a Mets clinch of the East.

That Nationals have 13 games left: 3 versus the Orioles starting tonight, 3 versus the Phillies, 1 make up game versus the Reds, 3 on the road against the Braves and the final 3 games of the season at the Mets. The Mets also have 13 games left: 3 versus the Braves, 4 at the Reds, 3 at the Phillies and that closing series at home against the Nationals. The Mets have the easier schedule, but the Nationals isn't far behind.

Let's play some hypotheticals: What's the best you expect this Nationals team to perform over those last 13 games? Sure, the Braves, Phillies, Reds, and Orioles don't have much to play for as all four have mathematically or realistically been eliminated from the playoffs already. But baseball is still baseball and that Mets series looms large at the close of the season. 11-2 sound possible? That means essentially they can afford one non-Mets series loss and one Mets series loss.

You think this team has that in them? You think this team can make a run from September 13 to the end of the season with only three losses? If so, the Mets have to go 5-8 over that same period for the Nationals to tie for the NL East lead and force a one game playoff. The Mets haven't played that poorly since the trade deadline that marked the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes and the return of their big name players from the DL. They have a couple 6-7 stretches since then, but you have to go back to their sweep at the hands of the Cubs in late June for them to have performed at a 5-8 level.

It's asking for a lot, it's nearly asking for the impossible. Can this Nationals team do it? Probably not. Will it keep the next 13 games interesting? Probably.

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