See I tell you it's over, the Braves climb within 5.5 (5.5!) and panic starts to bubble up again. What happens then? Nats sweep and Braves get swept and now it's 8.5 games! Basically if the Nats play ~.500 ball the Braves have to win every single game. It's not going to happen. (Even though the Nats are now done playing bad teams)
Again though, that leaves Nats fans with the odd situation of having a boring (but way more fun) end of September. With no pennant race what else can Nats fans keep an eye on? Last week I mentioned the award races (quick update - Gio's gained ground but still not likely the leader, Bryce has gained ground but still not likely the leader, though Dusty being an idiot and benching Frazier for Rolen will help, Pirates are fading making Davey the clear leader)This week? Home field advantage and 100 wins.
Home Field Advantage / #1 Seed
It'll be interesting to see how the #1 seed advantage plays out over the next few playoffs. If you look at the history of the Wild Card era playoffs, the #1 seed has not been all that advantageous. About a third of the time the #1 seed has found themselves playing a team with a better record than the #2 seed because of a combination of the Wild Card not always being worse than the #3 division winner and the whole "can't play a WC from your own division". Starting this year the second factor is no longer relevant, and while the first fact will continue to be the case, the Wild Card the #1 will face will now have a distinct disadvantage of having used its #1 pitcher on a 1-game playoff with the other Wild Card. This year though the WC team will host the first two games of the division series so that may mitigate this advantage*
*In 2013 they'll go to 2-2-1. You think this year is bad? Back before 1998 the division winners with home field were pre-determined. Therefore a division winner may find themselves playing the 2nd best team in the league just because. It happened in 1995 in the AL. Cleveland won 100 games, 14 more than the #2 seed Red Sox, but had to play them because the AL East and AL West had home field. Since the Red Sox couldn't play the WC Yankees, the Mariners had to and thus The #1 seed Cleveland Indians had to play as the away team to the #2 seed Red Sox. It wasn't a huge issue only because the Indians were so awesome they made the WS anyway
Beyond that the #1 seed only comes into play if the Reds and Nats both meet in the NLCS. The Nats hold a 2 .5 game lead right now but let's look at the remaining schedule.
Nats : @ATL, LAD, MIL, @PHI, @STL, PHI
Reds : @MIA, @CHC, LAD, MIL, @PIT, @STL
That's a tough road to hoe for the Nats. Not a below .500 team in there. You could note the Dodgers and Cards are kind of cold. but the Phillies and Brewers are red hot of course those games are a bit off in the future. Really though you can't deny the Reds have a much easier go.Can the Reds play 3 games better than the Nats though? (Nats hold tie-breaker since they are 5-2 vs the Reds, catching them early in the year when they were playing blah baseball) That's alot ot ask of them too. We'll see if the Reds can make up any games during this Miami, Chicago swing while the Nats go to Atlanta and host the Dodgers. If they can close a game or so, we'll re-evaluate. If not then I think the Nats will hold on.
The Nats stand at 89-54 at 143 games into the season. With 19 left the Nats only need to go 11-8 to hit that exclusive 100 win plateau. Meaningless? Sure. But it doesn't mean you don't want to get there.
The Nats schedule though features nothing but good teams, teams that you'd expect would hold ground at home and not get swept away on the road. Let's play it out in this fashion, not what I think, just what convention tells us.
1-2 in ATL, 2-1 vs LA, 3-1 vs MIL, 1-2 vs PHI, 1-2 vs STL, 2-1 vs PHI
What does that give the Nats? A 10-9 record and 99 wins. They are RIGHT there though if everything goes as expected a simple bad bounce in once game could be enough. If the Nats were to get to 100 easily I think it starts with winning the Braves series. They've beaten up on the Braves all year long. The Braves play worse at home.If the Nats are to fall a few games short I think it's that first home series that does it. 5-2 at home vs two pretty competent teams with some good starting pitching might be a bit optimistic. If they do lose that series to the Braves and go 3-4 or 4-3 at home then you need a killer finish.
What do I see... Hmm I'd say
2-1 in ATL, 2-1 vs LA, 2-2 vs MIL, 1-2 vs PHI, 2-1 vs STL, 2-1 vs PHI
Extra wins in ATL and STL, an extra loss at home v MIL. 11-8 and 100 wins on the nose. It'll almost certainly come down to that last Phillies series too. So if this matters to you you'll have soemthing to keep an eye on all the way to the end.