Playoff Picture: Shifting Goals and #WildCardFever

Jared Kobe (@SCviaDC) is a Nats fan who does the heavy math for us here at Nationals 101.  How slim are the Nationals playoff hopes?   Jared explores…

I have never been one for optimism. I see the faint glimmers of hope, and the opportunity that is out there, and my heart wants to latch on. My head, however, is desperately trying to protect that heart from being crushed.

For those with hope, here is the opportunity: the Nationals do not play a team with a winning record again until September 16th. The combined winning percentage of the teams the Nats will play over the next 18 games is .433. The Reds opponents, who are our friends in this desperate chase, have a winning percentage of .511 over that same time period. If we shorten the time period to the next 12 days, it’s .419 (Marlins x5, Mets x3, Phillies x3) and .553(!) (Cardinals x5, Rockies x3, Dodgers x3).

If anything is going to happen, the time is now.

I plugged the 2012 season into my method of using the winning percentage of a team as the probability in a binomial distribution to find the most probable outcomes of series. Ed: See Jared’s first such post here. I planned on doing more seasons, but the data isn’t as easily digestible and the calculations not friendly enough to be able to crank out the number quickly. Plus, newborns and playing on Baseball Reference don’t really mix. Regardless, I found that in 2012, for a 3-game or fewer series, anything within 25% of the most likely probability was within the 95%/2 standard deviation range. For 4-game to 10-game series, it was 15% and for 12-game or more series it was 10%. We’ll consider any outcome falling within these ranges as “actually possible” and anything that falls outside of those ranges as “most improbable”.

Now, on to the rest of the season:

WAS ATL WAS MIA WAS NYM WAS PHI
3 0.504 0.397 9 0.504 0.623 7 0.504 0.546 6 0.504 0.545
0 0.122 0.219 0.1707 0 0.002 0.0004 0.001 0 0.007 0.004 0.0057 0 0.015 0.009 0.0119
1 0.372 0.433 0.4026 1 0.017 0.002 0.0095 1 0.053 0.033 0.043 1 0.091 0.064 0.0772
2 0.378 0.285 0.3315 2 0.068 0.015 0.0414 2 0.16 0.121 0.1405 2 0.231 0.191 0.2106
3 0.128 0.063 0.0952 3 0.16 0.058 0.1093 3 0.271 0.242 0.2566 3 0.312 0.305 0.3086
4 0.244 0.144 0.1943 4 0.275 0.291 0.2833 4 0.238 0.274 0.2561
5 0.248 0.239 0.2434 5 0.168 0.21 0.189 5 0.097 0.132 0.1142
6 0.168 0.263 0.2155 6 0.057 0.084 0.0706 6 0.016 0.026 0.0213
7 0.073 0.186 0.1297 7 0.008 0.014 0.0114
8 0.019 0.077 0.0478
9 0.002 0.014 0.0081
WAS AZ WAS STL
3 0.504 0.481 3 0.504 0.409
0 0.122 0.14 0.131 0 0.122 0.206 0.1642
1 0.372 0.389 0.3804 1 0.372 0.429 0.4003
2 0.378 0.36 0.369 2 0.378 0.297 0.3373
3 0.128 0.111 0.1196 3 0.128 0.068 0.0982
CIN CHC CIN MIL CIN PIT CIN STL
3 0.556 0.576 3 0.556 0.557 6 0.556 0.42 5 0.556 0.409
0 0.087 0.076 0.0818 0 0.087 0.087 0.087 0 0.008 0.038 0.0229 0 0.017 0.072 0.0446
1 0.328 0.311 0.3197 1 0.328 0.328 0.3281 1 0.057 0.166 0.1115 1 0.108 0.249 0.1786
2 0.412 0.422 0.4169 2 0.412 0.412 0.4122 2 0.18 0.3 0.2397 2 0.27 0.345 0.3078
3 0.172 0.191 0.1816 3 0.172 0.173 0.1726 3 0.301 0.289 0.2949 3 0.339 0.239 0.289
4 0.283 0.157 0.2199 4 0.213 0.083 0.1477
5 0.142 0.045 0.0937 5 0.053 0.011 0.0324
6 0.03 0.005 0.0176
CIN HOU CIN COL CIN LAD CIN NYM
3 0.556 0.664 3 0.556 0.537 3 0.556 0.417 3 0.556 0.546
0 0.087 0.038 0.0626 0 0.087 0.099 0.0932 0 0.087 0.198 0.1429 0 0.087 0.093 0.0904
1 0.328 0.225 0.2766 1 0.328 0.345 0.3368 1 0.328 0.425 0.3769 1 0.328 0.337 0.333
2 0.412 0.444 0.4282 2 0.412 0.401 0.4064 2 0.412 0.304 0.3579 2 0.412 0.406 0.4091
3 0.172 0.293 0.2326 3 0.172 0.155 0.1637 3 0.172 0.072 0.1223 3 0.172 0.163 0.1676

The Nationals are currently 66-65 and the Reds 74-59. If we take what we see from the probability charts above, we get the following:

WAS CIN
W L W L
Current 66 65 74 59
Probable Low 74 88 82 80
Most Probable 81 81 90 72
Probable High 88 74 98 64

From this, we can see that the Nationals, based on their entire season, are destined for .500. Even at the edge of the realm of what I would consider possible, and 88 wins would definitely be at the edge, all the Reds need to do to keep the Nats at bay would be to play how they have all season. Is it possible for the Nats to catch them? Yes, it even falls within the bounds of “actually possible”, even if it is the convergence of two extremes of what would be considered probable.

My scenario for the Nationals to catch the Reds would be for them to maximize their probable wins against the weaker divisional opponents, so 7-2 against the Fish, 5-2 against the Mets, and 4-2 against the Phillies; and to steal a game at the end of the season against the Diamondbacks. That gets them to 86-76. That minimizes the deviation from the norm that will be needed from the Reds, and the number of less probable wins that will be needed from the likes of the Cubs, Brewers, Rockies and Mets. Regardless, the Nationals will need at least two of those teams to steal series wins from the Reds down the stretch, on top of the Pirates and Cardinals winning an extra game than they should.

I am not going to hold my breath.

But, I will change my sights.

Lost in the euphoria of the magical and historical 2012 is the fact that the Nationals had a winning season for the first time since coming to DC. Even though they had led the division for most of the season, September 3rd was a big day for me as a fan because that was the day they got win #82. Regardless of the rest of it, which had me excited as well don’t get me wrong, that was the day the Nationals became a “winning” team, if even for one season. Having put up with the dark times of the franchise after the first year they came to Washington, it was an important marker for me as a fan, especially after coming so close to doing so in 2011.

For the Nats to have a winning season this year, they need to finish the year 16-15. After September 15th, the schedule gets much harder with 3-gamers with the Braves, Cardinals, and Diamondbacks wrapped around a 4-game series with the Marlins. From that stretch, you can realistically only expect the team to go 5-8. That means they need to go at least 11-7 against the Marlins, Mets, and Phillies over the next (almost) three weeks. That means if they split the 4-game series against the Mets and win 4 out of the other 5 series, they will have a good shot at finishing above .500.

Back-to-back winning seasons still means something to me, and it should to you as well. It means progress. Forget the expectations for this year and remember back to those 100 loss seasons when they needed a year and a half to win 82 games. It is still something to point to and be happy about, and all they need to get there is a couple more series wins. That is what I am looking for, and I hope the Nats are able to do it.

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