What about the Pirates (6-11 in past ~3 weeks)? Can the Nats catch them?
Now let's disregard the fact that when given the choice to make the playoffs beating out the Braves, Cardinals, Reds or Pirates the Pirates come in a distant 4th. Only a heartless bastard would wish for a Pirates collapse. Yet, let's say we're staring at one in a week, can the Nats catch them?
The good news on that front is that the Pirates have overplayed their Pythag expectation by about 4 games at this point meaning they might be playing over their heads at this point (it was worse before this recent slide). Like I said before, out of all the teams infront of the Nats, the Pirates are the most likely one to come back to earth.
The problem with the Pirates is the 10 game lead. For the Nats to catch the Pirates at 86 the Pirates would have to go 10-21 while the Nats would have to go 20-11. The whole "catch the Reds" thing is predicated on one possible, but unlikely scenario happening (the Reds playing under .500 ball for the rest of the season), with one nearly impossible miracle scenario happening (the Nats playing like the best team in baseball at the same time). The thing that makes it feel possible is that you can say "oh the Reds can play like that". Do you feel as good about a scenario that needs the Pirates to play like the worst team in baseball? I don't.
If Pittsburgh does collapse though it could set up a dream end of season scenario with CIN, PIT, WSN and ARI fighting for one spot, with the season ending with CIN @ PIT and
You said disregard the D-backs but they won again! Why won't they go away!?
A bunch of reasons. They played really well when we started looking at this in early August (swept a two-gamer vs TB, swept the O's, took 2 of 3 at Pittsburgh) so they were able to whether a bit of bad play and still hold their ground.
Their schedule is in the easy section. After they finish off SD today, they'll host SF and TOR for 6 more games, then 4 in SF. As nice as it is that the Nats hit an easy stretch so have Mike Rizzo's blessed D-backs.
They are a decent hitting team with Goldschmidt growing into a legit star, and the Aaron Hill renaissance continuing. When Prado is doing well and Chavez is healthy - it's a good enough core to score runs since the rest of the line-up doesn't really have an anchor. I did warn you that prospect Adam Eaton could heat up and he has (.340 / .411 / .520 in past 2 weeks). If you're looking for a weakness, it's the pitching. Starting pitching is pretty decent 1-3 with Cahill getting over a horrific June, but bad after that. Pen has some decent arms but nothing lights out. They still have the "ace in the hole" in Archie Bradley who may or may not get called up, but I'm guessing not.
Anyway expect the D-backs to hang around until the 9th when they play the Dodgers seven out of ten. If the Nats can't pass them then (and they might not because it's when the Nats play the Braves) it almost certainly sets up an end of the season showdown (since the Nats have STL before them to end the year)
We're expecting the Nats to catch the Reds by blasting past them. If they do it by winning 23+ games to end the year than we can probably dismiss the D-backs. But if it's more because of a Reds collapse and the Nats get back in it winning 20 or less, the D-backs should be in the hunt as well, not in the rearview.
Anything to worry about or look forward to with the batters?
I'd worry about Span crashing and Ramos' recent slide. Span has been hitting real well which will happen but nothing about Span makes me think it's sustainable over a month. Ramos is looking and hitting tired which will happen if you spend the whole season in recovery. Moore is a little iffy too, but if they keep him facing guys they like him against I doubt he'll bottom out as bad as earlier this year.
There really isn't anyone hitting super poorly right now that demands a bounce back. Desmond, Zimm and LaRoche are all hitting ok or better recently. Only Werth, who carried the team for a month and a half, Ramos and Rendon are struggling. I can see the latter two continuing it and Werth is just a season fluctuation. He'll probably hit a little better down the stretch than in the past week or so, but someone else. like Desmond, will probably hit a little worse
Pretty easy call but keep an eye on ZNN & Haren. Dan Haren I'll admit is more of a felling. After a long stretch of pitching well he fell into the homer trap again, and I just don't trust the guy after that terrible first half. ZNN had more good pitching than bad in August but when he's off you can almost chalk up the loss. Did you know that in the last six games he's given up a homer in, he's given up at least 2? The Nats can't afford automatic losses.
I think Roark to start is a mistake and not sure why you'd pull 'dorf to do it, but he is pitching well in his short outings so it could turn out ok. It's not like Ross is untouchable. It's an interesting gutsy move that may define the end of this season.
In the pen side, we're due for a dominant stretch from Soriano. Given how well Clippard has pitched this year and the fact that Storen's got his head back on straight that could sew up a lot of games.
You're still saying 85 games?
Yes. Sorry. That's 19 and 12! That's still a great month. And if it's top loaded because of the schedule the Nats should be in play until the middle of September at worst.