What’s likely to happen over the final 67 games of the season? Will the Nats offense improve? Can the Nats catch the Braves? Find out here!
Improved Offense: Barring Injury (and PLEASE let me repeat that BARRING INJURY) the Nats are going to score runs a lot more regularly than they have been. Remember all that talk about a talented team that was too good not to score runs? Well they were out and beat up for a lot of the year. (Read here if you don’t’ believe me). They’re back now, and they are already scoring more runs.
Different Batting Orders: Davey talked about it, and showcased it a little before the break: Moving a struggling Span down in the order, and moving better players up. You want your better hitters getting more at bats, and until Span straightens things out he’s going to be a secondary leadoff man-still a dangerous spot given the power Wilson Ramos batting after him represents. Complete pseudo science here-but they seem to respond well when the order get shuffled. I expect the Nats to benefit from a bit of tinkering and seeing pitches in different spots and batting around different people.
A new Pitcher: I know we talked about it some yesterday, but I think the Nationals are going to find someone else to pitch with them this year. I think that is going to, in part, come with a trade of a guy who I will always root for, Danny Espinosa. I don’t think we’re talking star quality here, and I don’t think we are talking Matt Garza either – Rizzo shies away from the things all people think he will do. But it will be someone you hadn’t thought of, I’m sure.
They’re already playing better: The Nats have scored a dismal 3.76 runs per game thus far. Second from the bottom in the NL. Their pitching has been middle top with 3.91 runs per game-5th in the NL. As such, it’s pretty amazing they’ve played slightly better than .500 ball given they average giving up more runs than they score.
Just for giggles, I kept track of the results in the 25 games before the all-star break. That included most of the roster back, but mostly was just a nice number that I figured everyone could wrap their head around. (Plus at the time they were at .500).
A 13-12 record was pretty brutal (especially since it ended with a 2-5 trip that might have easily been flipped to 5-2), but the runs per game looked surprisingly better: The Nats outscored their opponents 114-94, or 4.56 runs per game (well above NL average of 4.07 and way WAY above their yearly average) to 3.76 runs per game (surprisingly, slightly better pitching than the year as a whole thus far).
Take this into account as well: Their dismal 3.76 R/G scored includes the stretch of 25 games above-meaning their offense was that much worse 25 games ago (about 3.47 R/G over the first 70 to be exact). They were playing .500 baseball with a brutally bad offense. And the fans say they have no grit!
Now any fan who’s been watching the games know that there is a bit of a skew here: Scoring 11 runs one game, and 3 over the next five doesn’t help much of anyone-so the solace a person takes in these numbers is minimal. Yet, it does count for something: A lineup that has, for the first time all year, been stable, over a 25 game stretch ought to have played about .600 baseball. They didn’t, but they might do it if they can keep scoring and holding off runs at a better pace.
Throw out their season averages. They don’t matter anymore. That’s over. What matters is the next 67 games. Speaking of them:
The Schedule Upcoming: Gone are the days of the Nationals preying on weaker opponents and waiting for a big stretch. Gone are the dreams of a 120 win season. Gone are the days of a 98 game winning season, really. The Nats have one job, and one job only: Catch Atlanta. Don’t give me that Wild Card stuff-that’s gonna happen by accident if it happens. You can’t “chase” the wild card when you don’t play Cincy anymore, and have only one series against the Cards and Pirates each left. Those three teams are going to beat each other up, and if it happens it happens. The only thing the Nats control at this point is their destiny in the NL East.
Here is the rest of their schedule (Broken up by Homestand vs. Road Trip)
HOME: 3 Dodgers, 4 Pirates, 4 Mets
ROAD: 2 @ Tigers, 3 @ Brewers
HOME: 3 Braves, 3 Phillies, 3 Giants
ROAD: 3 @ Braves 4 @ Cubs 3 @ Royals
HOME: 3 Marlins 3 Mets
ROAD 3 @ Phillies 3 @ Marlins 4 @ Mets
HOME: 3 Phillies 3 Braves 4 Marlins
ROAD 3 @ Cardinals 3 @ Diamondbacks
Let’s assume the Nats win every three game series out there 2-1. Let’s also assume the Nats win the Mets and Home Marlins 4 game series, split the Pirates 4 games series and the Cubs 4 game, Met 4 game Marlins 4 game and Detroit 2 games series. That has the Nats winning or splitting all the series going forward. That’s 43 more wins, or 43-24. That would give them a final record of 91-71, 10 games over .500.
It would also be an insanely hard thing to do-that includes things like beating the Cards and Diamondbacks 2 out 3 on the road, splitting with a Tigers team that will have a DH, and winning all 3 series against the Braves. It’s not impossible, but it’s tough as nails.
The better way to think about the upcoming schedule is not having to win every game (they won’t do that) but three key pieces:
Dominate at Home, Split on the Road: The Nats have to dominate the home stretches. They have to sweep teams like the Marlins and Mets who they are better than. THey have to Beat teams like Giants and Dodgers who, like them, are struggling to get back into it. And they have to just step up and punch the Pirates in the teeth this weekend. The Nats play better at home, and winning series won’t be enough-because it will be a struggle to split on the road. The Nationals need to play their best baseball both on the road and at home to have any chance at anything.
Beat the Phillies: Yeah, you know what else would help? Beating the Phillies. I warned against them at the beginning of the year as a team too many people were sleeping on. They aren’t great, but they are as good as the Nats easily. The Nats need to stop goofing around with them and start treating their back end pitchers the way the rest of the league does. A three team mix at the top is too much. The Nats need to handle business against the other also-rans before they can seriously challenge Atlanta. Which brings me to the only real thing that matters in the coming months:
Beat Atlanta: The Nats have to do those other two things, but really what they have to do is beat Atlanta. 6 games back and 9 games left against the Braves. At least three of those games need to come from winning all three series against the Braves. You can more or less throw the season out of the window if the Nats don’t beat the Braves. Sweeps would help, but are a lot to ask-and not strictly necessary. If the Nats lose just four games to the Braves, they only make up one of those six games. Any more than that-kaput.
Even then the Nationals need some help. But frankly, where the team finds itself right now, that is as it should be. The Braves have been the team to beat, and the Nats need to beat them. They aren’t unbeatable – they’ve basically been treading water the same as the Nationals for the last two months. With 6 of the 9 games at home, the Nationals have zero excuses. If they can’t beat the Braves 6 out of 9 times they don’t deserve to win the NL East.
Buckle in, Nats fans. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.