If Monday is Labor Day today must be Business Friday or something. No ones around. But I am!
There are the obvious series that really matter for both teams (NYY @ BAL, DET @ KC) but there is a couple of interesting division leader vs what amounts to division chasers series going on and the Nats are one of those (HOU @ TEX is the other)
Generally fans don't want to face a divisional opponent in the playoffs. There's a sense that facing a non-divisional opponent comes simply down to talent. A division opponent though knows you. It's hard to shake the idea that they may be able to match-up against you better and they might have more personal reasons for wanting to beat you.* Honestly all these teams want to win badly and all these teams are quality. They are all going to try hard. But still...
So if you have a chance to keep a divisional opponent out of the playoffs, as the Nats do with the Mets, it might be prudent to take advantage of it. If not for you than for the fans. They play the Mets 6 times in 12 games starting tonight. The Mets' other six are against Cincy and Atlanta so let's assume they go 4-2 there. The Nats taking 4 or more would make the Mets .500 over that 12 game span. They probably lose at least a game to whoever is in WC2. They probably get passed by the Pirates and/or the Marlins. This leaves the Mets needing to gain 3 games over 16 to end the year, while leapfrogging a team or two. They have an easy schedule but even 11-5 might not get that done. So win the series, then win the next series vs the Mets and they are likely out. However, this plan seems a lot tougher today than it did 3 weeks ago.
The Mets for the most part have finally been playing good baseball, 9-3 in the last 12, now 2 games out of the WC. This time frame pretty much aligns with the return of Cespedes. It's not as if Cespedes is actually a game-changing player. You can ask Detroit and Boston and Oakland about that. But Cespedes is a game-changer for the Mets. Last year he came in and hit like crazy and helped carry them (along with pitching and Murphy and some savvy deals) to the NL East title. He's got that cache. Now, there's something about his presence that is working in his favor. If he can simply come in and hit like he can, it boosts the team. And he's done better than that hitting .333 / .393 / .667 since being back. The team is reacting. Even in last night's loss the Mets came part of the way back.
The Mets can't catch the Nats - that's not what this series is about.** This is about the Nats turning it back on. It's about facing an opponent with some talent and some momentum and shutting them down. The schedule has given the Nats an easy ride for the dog days. That's great. But it's past time for the Nats to take it to a team that is playoff caliber. Let's start now.
*The Nats have the unenviable position of having non-talent reasons for not wanting to face a number of these teams. Along with the Cubs being awesome and the Mets being divisional opponents, the Nats have history losing to the Cardinals and Giants. Psychologically a match-up vs the Dodgers then hopefully a transcendent Pittsburgh would be best I guess?
** It's not enough that the Mets win, the Nats would have to utterly
collapse to make that a possibility. Let's think of a plausible terrible stretch for the Nats - say the
Mets win 5 of 6 vs them and win 5 of 6 inbetween and the Nats only go 4-3
inbetween (ATL and PHI at home - they should do better than that) That
would only get the Mets to 4 out with 16 to go. We just said 3 in 16 would be tough. The Nats truly have to do something like go 2-5 vs ATL and PHI AND go 1-5 or 0-6 vs the Mets to make this a race.