The Nats have been terrible vs the Braves. Going back to late 2012 that makes the Nats 7-22 in their last 29 games vs Atlanta. Why? Well, the big part of it is Atlanta is good, in particular was really good last year, while at the same time the Nats were off last year. It's pretty simple.You can have an off year versus a good team and get slaughtered. (Hell you can have an off year versus a mediocre team and get slaughtered if the chips fall the wrong way)
Of course this would be easier to take if the Nats weren't also 0-6 vs the Cardinals last year and 1-5 versus the Dodgers (3-4 vs Pirates, but hey! 4-3 vs Cincinnati!) Like I said at the end of last column, with the Nats sitting at 1-5 against Atlanta the question becomes - Can the Nats beat good teams? Unfortunately for the Nats, the question is asked at a time when the answer is most likely "No". Fister, Ramos, and Zimmerman out. Span potentially out. This is an ailing team that has passed the point of its preparation. At that point perceptions change.
Did we like the Nats better than the Braves? Yes.
Do we like the Nats better than the Braves? No.
Will we like the Nats better than the Braves? I don't know.
If the Nats all come back healthy in 6 weeks than sure. That would be the same team to start the year. Or perhaps if the Braves, who have reached their own limit in preparation, lose another starter. But I don't want to say it looks good for the Nats right now. Have they ever had guys come back exactly on time and perform up to expectations? I'm seriously asking. It at least feels like everyone comes back late and comes back hurt. A Nats team with a third of the team guarnteed to underperform is not a playoff competitive team unless Bryce and Rendon become Mantle and Hornsby overnight.
The ball is now in Rizzo's court then. The easy solution, the one Rizzo has taken mid-season in the past, is to do nothing. Sit, wait and assume everything will go according to plan. The Nats will hold court going in the neighborhood of .500. Zimmerman, Ramos and Fister will all be back by about June 1st and the Nats will play the next 100 games as they should have played 162 if healthy. Seems like an ok plan. Of course that assumption - that everyone will be back healthy on June 1st is a big one. Then there is the assumption that no one else will get injured. That's a big one, too. Then there is the biggest problem :
That scenario doesn't guarantee playoffs
62 games at a .500 pace is 31-31
100 games at "original" pace* is 58-42
That's a 89-73 team. 89-73 did not make the playoffs last year. Used to be 89 would at least give you a shot and the thought was that in the expanded playoffs it could be a lock. Turns out though the competition steps up and tries harder with a goal in reach. Water finds its level. 90 wins is needed for a good shot. 92 for a lock.
If Rizzo does nothing again - the Nats are probably in for a dogfight just to make the playoffs. 2014 has turned into 2013 alarmingly quickly.
*Using 94 wins pace
- The sweep will bring out the idiots shouting "SEE! YOU OVERRATED THE NATS!!!!" These are probably the same people that would act like you were stupid if you didn't pick the Rockies to finish at least 2nd in the NL West in a season where they only managed that when California fell into the ocean because of a massive earthquake. Ignore them.
- The injuries matter far more than the losses do. The worst part about the losses is that the Braves now have a one-game lead and the Nats have "only" 13 H2H games to make that up. That's not bad - that's fine. Then there are the 137 other games still left too. As the season wears down you like to have H2H because you are only hoping for one event, not two. That matters, but this far out it doesn't matter a lot.
- Bryce is heating up. Danny looked ok. Maybe the Nats can do this?
- Rendon is cooling down. So is LaRoche. Desmond didn't look good either. Maybe not?
- The Nats SP ERA sits at 4.81. Clippard and Blevins both have ERAs over 5. That's not going to get it done. (It will get better though)