1 run - almost certain loss
16 runs - has to be considered a certain win
0 runs - certain loss
3 game average = 17/3 = 5.67 R/G! Probably 2 wins (given average pitching), maybe 3!
See! Distribution matters! Now over the course of a season it's supposed to even out but occasionally it doesn't. Now you might say "Hey Harper - if the runs they score shouldn't match up with the wins they get - why is the Pythag Expectation (33-33) so close to the reality (34-32)?" Well glad you asked. The answer is that the Nats are hanging with expectations in large part because of luck in 1 and 2 run games.
We've talked about this before but 1 run games are basically toss-ups. Good relief doesn't matter. Year after year teams tend to win about 50% of these games, with minor variation based on talent. In other words good teams tend to win more close games, they ARE good, but less often than they win games with larger margins of victory. Good teams correlate much better with blowout wins, not close ones.
Anyway I'm digressing. The Nats have the best record when it comes to their record in 1 or 2 run games (I like to expand it out to 2 games which are less of a coin flip but still not strongly correlated) at 17-11. In games decided by 3 or more they are a sad 17-21. The true team talent is a combination of both, but give more weight to those 3+ games.
That luck is balancing out the run scoring issues. If they were say a more reasonable 13-15 (based on their 3+ standings) They'd be 30-36 and fighting off the Marlins.
Am I saying the Nats have been lucky at least with what has happened on the field? Yep. They've had Bryce develop into the best offensive player in the NL. They've had Max be the best starter in the NL. They've gotten more breaks than any team in close games. And the end result is a team 1.5 games out of first. That shows you the underlying issues with the team up to this point. Injuries leading to some terrible offensive performances, leading to very deep reliance on a standardly deep bench (for a team that should have expected more than a standard number of injuries), bad starting pitching performances from three of the five rotation guys for whatever reason, bad late inning performances of the pen, mediocre at best defense, no help from baserunning.
"Up to this point" is key because perhaps Rendon and Strasburg and Fister returning to form after injury and Roark heading back to the pen fixes a good deal those underlying issues. But man, that's a list isn't it? That's Tyler Moore esque in things the team isn't good at.
The reason to be optimistic about the team hasn't changed. The team is better than the rest of the NL East. But we're more than a third of the season through the year. We're getting to the point we can stop believing these are things the team can overcome with a fast finish. June 27th was the date last year's team started playing better (they were a middling 41-38 before that) and that team was helped out by a scorching August and September (They finished 33-13 which is a 116 win pace) and a complete Braves collapse (at one point the Nats would go 7-7 and pick up 4.5 games). This team isn't going to get the former and well.. ok.. I can see the Mets doing the latter. Hooray terrible division!