Aug 27, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT
We spent yesterday morning detailing the reasons why a last-ditch, late-season-playoff-charge-for-the-ages is highly unlikely for the Nationals. But I’d hate to be labeled as too negative. Especially in the midst of this blog’s redesign.
So let’s actually spend a few minutes this morning running through a scenario in which the Nationals actually could make it to October.
That doesn’t mean anyone is predicting this will happen, only that it could happen.
As they wake up this morning, the Nationals find themselves eight games back in the NL Wild Card race, having picked up 1/2-game last night when the Reds lost a big game to the Cardinals in St. Louis. So, they need to make up eight games in the standings with 32 to play. How hard can that be?
Well, actually, it’s a lot harder than it sounds. Consider this: If the Reds play .500 ball the rest of the way, they’d finish at 89-73. In order to catch Cincinnati and force a one-game playoff, the Nats would need to go 24-8. That’s a .750 winning percentage.
But there is good news. Four teams actually have won 24-of-32 games at one point this season: the Dodgers, Tigers, Rays and Cardinals. And while the Nationals haven’t come close to a prolonged stretch like that this season (their best 32-game record has been 18-14), they have done it twice in their history (June 2005 and July-August 2012).
The odds get a bit more promising if Cincinnati plays sub-.500 ball to finish out its season. If the Reds go 13-17, they’d wind up 87-75. To catch them, the Nationals would need to go 22-10, a .688 winning percentage which is a bit more manageable. For comparison’s sake, the Nats are 11-5 over their last 16 games. They’d simply need to keep that exact same pace up over the rest of the season to pull it off.
Now, is there any reason to believe the Nationals can keep up that pace? Or that the Reds could tank so dramatically during the season’s final five weeks? Well, there is one glimmer of hope: The schedule.
The Nationals have one of MLB’s easiest remaining schedules, with 23 of 32 games coming against sub-.500 teams. In fact, their next 19 games all come against the three bottom-feeders of the NL East: the Mets, Phillies and Marlins.
The Nats have gone 45-29 against teams with losing records this year, a .608 winning percentage. But that’s not good enough anymore. That would equate to a 14-9 record in those 23 remaining games against sub-.500 teams, and that’s not going to get the job done. Realistically, the Nationals would need to go, at minimum, 16-7 in those games to give themselves a chance.
They would then need to go 6-3 in their nine games against winning teams (the Braves, Cardinals and Diamondbacks) to finish 87-75.
Of course, none of this matters if the Reds finish with 88 or more wins, so what are the odds they can’t pull that off? Well, 15 of their remaining 30 games come against teams over the .500 mark (six apiece with the NL Central-contending Pirates and Cardinals, plus three against the ridiculously-hot Dodgers).
What is Cincinnati’s record against winning teams this season? 26-35, a very uninspired .426 percentage. Suppose the Reds go 5-10 in those 15 games against Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Los Angeles. They could then still go 8-7 in their 15 other games against the Rockies, Cubs, Brewers, Astros and Mets and finish with only 87 wins.
So there you have it: I just concocted a scenario in which the Nationals and Reds each finish 87-75, forcing a one-game playoff to get into the one-game Wild Card.
Is is plausible? Not really. But is it possible? Sure.
And the way 2013 has gone in D.C., the fact it’s even possible to consider a last-ditch pennant race for the Nationals is reason enough to celebrate.
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