Well it's August at least. In July the Nats were supposed to face another weak part of their schedule and they finally had everyone back. It was break out time! Instead, they ended up with their worst month of the year. In fact it was their worst month since May of 2011, a month where Jerry Hairston & Alex Cora started a bunch of games, and even Brian Bixler worked his way into the starting lineup a couple times. (even that team averaged 4.07 R/G in May). Ugh.
Will it change? Can it change? I'm not sure. And we want to be sure about it before calling it a season.
The head-to-head factor
Some out there take issue with "pace" notes. You know, when someone says "If the Braves go X and Y the Nats need to go A and B to catch them". They don't like it because it exaggerates the impossibilty of tasks when there a lot of head to head games left. This is because in a head to head game your win and their loss are not separate events. You win and they lose (or vice versa).
Let's say you had 3 games left and needed to make up 3 games of ground. If you think your team will win 60% of the time and the team you are trying to catch will also win 60% of the time vs who they are playing, then your odds of catching up would be (.6)*(.6)*(.6) * (.4)*(.4)*(.4). In written words, it would be the odds of you sweeping multiplied by the odds of them being swept. However, if you are facing eachother and put the odds at 50% you win any game then your odds of catching up would be (.5)*(.5)*(.5), the odds of you sweeping. There is no separate three games to factor in for the other team. Your sweep is them getting swept. Your odds change from the nigh-impossible 1.3% to a reason for hope 12.5%.
Anyway that's the crux of the argument and it does matter but it's a lot less powerful an argument the more you trail and the more other games you have to play. The Nats do have 9 games left vs the Braves and trail by 11. If they were to sweep the Braves in those 9, they'd still have to outplay them by 2 games in the other 45 to tie them. Two games over 45 is not crazy, but when you start the argument with "if we sweep them over the 9 games" you really don't want anything else making your odds even worse.
It was a lot easier to see a path back when the Nats trailed by 5-6 games. In that case a more reasonable (but still hard) 6-3 record vs the Braves to finish the season would leave the Nats with a task that wasn't daunting. Now though, now it's all come down to a dream sweep. Even a 7-2 record in the remaining head-to-head games would only make up 5 games and leave the Nats with the task of making up 6 over a month and a half worth of games. In that case you can work the pace. If the Braves go 23-22 can the Nats go 29-16? It just doesn't feel like it'll happen. But I'll give the Nats the next series to catch up at least.
The heart factor
I wanted to address this just because I wanted to clear up what I think is a misconception about "intangibles". Things like momentum, heart, pressure, clubhouse atmosphere, scrappiness, whatever, it's NOT that they don't exist or that they don't effect the outcome of games. We all can relate to having our performance suffer or appear to be better depending on circumstance and mood. It's that we can't accurately measure these things. There's simply no way to know really things like "who's out hustling who", "who wants it more", "who's getting rattled". We dismiss it because there isn't a way to bring it into the argument without adding a ton of bias. People themselves aren't always good judges of how their performance is being effected. Forget about being on the outside trying to make judgements. Managers have a puncher's chance, maybe. Reporters are just fooling themselves. Fans might as well be making stuff up.
Plus, there are all these other things we can measure that do a really good job of leading us to the right outcomes. All those fancy and non-fancy stats. We focus on what we know, not what we think. It's the best way to being successful more often than not.
So when Bryce goes off on heart and family, I don't dismiss it as pure nonsense. Maybe it does matter. But it's hard to think it matters more than LaRoche's 33 year old body, or Rendon's lack of experience, or the base talent level of Span, the bench and the back of the rotation. I suppose one or two of those things could turn around. But all of them? Or the actual talent of the team going on a stretch where they only hit highs and no lows? I just don't see it.
The Nats may be a good team trapped in a terrible season, but even a good team can't make up this much ground. I'll give them to the Braves series because I want the idea of one last stand to turn it around but we're at the point where the doctor says "There's nothing more medically we can do. It's in HIS hands now"