The idea of a Nats comeback has always been based on the duel idea that the Nats would surge and the Reds would fold. Any other scenario you could think of would require one of these two teams to put up a historically bad/good month, like one for the ages. A week into September and the Nats aren't quite surging, but they're right there. 17-8 in their last 25, 11-4 in their last 15 (ok that's pretty surge-y). The problem is the Reds aren't folding. They went 16-11 and 8-8 in the same time frames as the records I mentioned for the Nats. They are losing ground to the Nats but not nearly fast enough.
The Reds were supposed to get beat up by the Cardinals. Instead they did the beating and it killed the Nats chances. The 3-1 series versus the Cardinals was the worst possible outcome. Even a Reds sweep would have been better for the Nats as it would have brought the Cardinals down low and the Nats have their own shot at the Cardinals before the season ends.Earlier I said a 6-4 record could suffice on this road trip. The world has changed. Now I think 8-2 will be necessary.
I said before we'd have a better understanding of where we stand after Labor Day. Well here we are. The Reds face the Dodgers (Kershaw and Greinke) for 3 games, in Cincinnati, while the Nats go out and play the Marlins in Miami. If the Nats can't get out of this weekend at least two games closer to the Reds, I'm not sure we should bother to figure out the rest of the season. The Dodgers need to sweep the Reds and/or the Nats need to sweep the Marlins (preferably both).
Why so glum? The Nats schedule advantage will have gone by the end of this weekend. The Reds follow the Dodgers with the Cubs at home, then away at Milwaukee and Houston. They will play the Pirates twice after that, sandwiching a Mets series. The Nats will play the Marlins, Phillies, and Mets again, but they'll also tangle with the Braves, Cardinals, and D-Backs. I give the Reds the upper hand here.
The Nats have played great, but if they can't find themselves on the morning of Sept 9th 5 games or closer the finish for the ages scenarios start to apply. Reds go 9-9 versus that weak remaining schedule? Nats need to go 16-4 to close out the year, even better than they've played so far. The Nats finish strong against some pretty decent competition and go 13-7? The Reds have to go 6-12 against a lot of beatable teams. We're almost in win 'em all territory.
Of course nothing is absolute. As long as the Nats don't lose 3 games of ground I'm sure someone will still believe in the comeback, because it isn't mathematically impossible ("All the Nats have to do is go 19-1 and have the Reds go under .500 and blammo! Playoff City!") But this is where I'm setting the bar on calling the season. 5 games out or less by Monday. It's not only in the Nats hands, which is frustrating, but it's the cold hard reality of a season that went astray a long time ago.