One of my favorite things to say late in a game is "They now face two opponents, the other team... and the clock" I don't know why it always amuses me but it does. It highlights how in a timed event it's not only the team on the other side that you need to worry about but the amount of time left for you to comeback. At certain points a comeback becomes an impossiblity simply because it cannot be completed in the time allowed.
Baseball of course doesn't have a clock so while comebacks become progressively more unlikely they never become impossible. You can't come up with a scenario on how to score 5 pts in .2 seconds in basketball, but 9 runs in one out? Just don't get out.
But while baseball the game doesn't have a clock, baseball the season does. You don't get your turn to make up 4.5 games at the end of the year. The season, and time to make up ground, will run out on you. And that's the other opponent the Nats face right now. They won last night. So did the Mets. Ground wasn't lost but a game that could have been used to make up their deficit was. Tick.
It ominous, every game passing costing the Nats something even if they do win, but it's actually not terrible if the Nats simply hold their ground. That's because of the 6 head to head games left. I've said before that as long as they can be within six, I'm not writing the Nats off. In some ways the way the season breaks is even better for the Nats, or at least for the tiny sparks of hope residing in their fans.
The best news for the Nats lies in the fact they end the season with the Mets. Three games. So if the Nats are within 3 games of New York at that point. There's a reasonable chance they could get to where they want to be. What's reasonable? Well say you give the Nats a 50/50 shot at winning any game against the Mets. For the Nats to make up three games they'd need to sweep the Mets. Since every Nats win is a Mets loss in this case the chances of this happening would be 0.5 * 0.5 * 0.5 = 0.125 or about 12.5% That's not likely but it's better than being 3 out and not playing the Mets to end the year. In that case the Nats wins and Mets losses are distinct events. Even if you like the Nats to win vs their opponent a lot. say 70% (which is crazy high) and you like the Mets to lose to their opponent alot, let's again say 70% (which is again crazy high) you have to have 6 things, not 3 going your way. In math that would be (0.7 * 0.7) * (0.7 * 0.7) * (0.7 * 0.7) = 0.118 or 11.8%. That's giving the Nats winning and Mets losing crazy good odds of happening, like best team playing worst team odds. Something more reasonable like 55%? Your chances drop below 3%
So really that's where the Nats stand. There are 41 games between now and the final Mets series. The Nats need to only make up 1.5 games in those 41 games for fans to have any hope of making the playoffs come October 2nd. And that hope wouldn't be crazy. In the meantime the Nats have another 3 game set versus the Mets sitting there 18 games from now. I've set that as kind of a mid-way goal. Make up 1.5 games in 18, get to that Mets series with a chance to get back into a tie for first. That's not too much to ask, is it?