The Nats season has been undeniably successful. They have played very well and have a nice lead in their division. They are on pace to win 97 games and in a normal season that would be enough to challenge for home-field advantage. Then why are we still saying they can do better? It's in part because how they got to this point. Rather than a steady climb, or a slow start and gradual improvement, the Nats season so far feels like its had as much drag as go.
The Nats started super fast and by game 18 were already 10 games over .500. After that though the Nats spent the good chunk of the first half playing near .500 ball. For the next 32 games they'd find themselves bouncing between 11 and 7 games over .500. After another week or so, they finally broke through going 10-2 over a twelve game stretch to reach a high of 18 games over .500, only to then lose 7 in a row to bring them back to 11 games over. So 57 games since reaching 14-4 the Nats had manged to gain all of one more game.
The pessimist might say nothing had changed looking at the season. The optimist though could point to the Nats ceiling and floor both rising. Yes, in those 32 games the Nats didn't really move the needle and played uninspired ball. But in the next 25 the ceiling went up to 12, the floor to 10, the ceiling up to 18, the floor to 11. The Nats may still have been bouncing back and forth but the good started to outweigh the bad. The Nats would then go 11-4 to end the half tying their season high of 18 over and having the floor move up to 15 over.
I think we have seen the Nats play their best ball. If we break the season into the start, then the middling period, then the rising it works to be : 14-4, 15-17, 25-15. A can't be beat 18 games, a disappointing 32, then a great 40. The 25-15 was a wild ride going fast up (10-2), then fast down (0-7), then fast up (6-0), but the ups took the Nats higher than the down brought them back. 25-15 is a 100 win pace. That's right up there with the best this team is going to do over that long a stretch.
We've talked about this upcoming schedule before the break. PIT, LAD, SDP at home; CLE, SFG, ARI away; SFG CLE at home. That's a tough 23 game stretch. Trying to set up an expectation : you probably go for 6-3 at home, 4-5 away, 3-2 at home for a 13-10 record. I'd probably be ok with a slip-up to 12-11. Under .500 means something went wrong somewhere, while 15 or more wins should have you thinking best record in baseball with ATL, COL, ATL, BAL, COL, PHI finishing out August.
Basically, if the Nats don't collapse out of the gate I'm not sure that the Mets games around Labor Day will be meaningful at all. You have to figure 10-7 for a floor for those 2nd half of August games. If the Nats do go say 12-11 that puts them gaining 4 games over 40 games. Meaning to get within 3 games the Mets would have to go at least 7 games over or like 24-16. And that's figuring the Nats to go 10-7 over a stretch where it's very likely they do much better. We just said 25-15 in 40 is a 100 win pace. 24-16 is only a game behind that. In short, if the Nats take care of business now, simply by keeping pace, it looks like it'll be up to the Mets to do something special.
OK let's get this 2nd half started.