The Nats have inarguably had the best team in the NL East over the last five seasons. From 2012-2016 the Nats have had good to very good offenses mixed with good to great pitching staffs and have by the grace/curse of luck with injuries and competitor timing, either been division winners or also rans. But while the Nats have gotten lucky with injuries and the rest of the NL East presenting them with an AFC East for the Patriots situation, what the Nats have never been is lucky on the field.
Here are their win totals and their "expected" win totals (Pythag, and 3rd order).
2012 : 98 (96, --)
2013 : 86 (84, 83)
2014 : 96 (97, 97)
2015 : 83 (89, 89)
2016 : 95 (97, 98)
Now I won't go into the details of what these other win totals mean
beyond saying they are attempts to strip luck out of the equation. They
attempt to answer the question - with an offense this good and a
pitching staff that good, how many games should you have won in a
vacuum? It's a completely pointless descriptive stat. When looking back
on a year, who cares how many you should have won? But as a predictive
stat it can be useful, if taken with the usual caveats. It's also useful
for me showing this point.
The Nats have never really gotten that lucky on the field. The best they've done against the expected win totals is +2/+3 back in 2013. That is almost "noise". They did have one year that was probably unlucky winning 83 games when 89 was more likely given the talent* but they have yet to have that year when things break their way with the way the ball bounces on the field.
I bring this up not because the Nats are getting super lucky now. Their wins would be 13 (11, 12) and you actually expect more craziness early than late. I bring this up because isn't it time? Can't the Nats have a great team AND a team that is lucky all over and just coast to a title? Take a double digit division lead by Memorial Day and not look back? In 2012 they took a few game lead in mid June but never quite shook the Braves until late August. In 2014 the Nats actually spent most of the year trying to catch Atlanta before passing the Braves and not looking back in mid-August***. Last year was the closest we've come to the dream ideal where a sweep of the Mets in late June pretty much put the division away, but you could see a possible path back for the Mets until early August.
I want to enter the All-Star Break with a 15 game lead and have a summer of nothing but watching a great team play great baseball. I think this team, and this division, can give us that. The Nats offense (unlike the pen) is possibly the best they've ever had. There are no obvious holes, Bryce is BRYCE and Zimm looks to be healthy. The rotation is as good as it usually is. The pen could stand to have that one more great arm to anchor it, but we weren't wrong saying that talent was there. It'll just be a matter of getting lucky with health and shuffling things around until they find a fit. The Mets are already injury bit. The Marlins will have to have everything go right with that rotation to stay in it. The Phillies can't be real and lost Buchholz for the year. The Braves can't get over the fact they've built their line-up with two awful bats (right now**) wasting Freeman's potential in carrying the team.
As a side note : the other thing the Nats have never done is have an actual down the wire division race. The Nats' Septembers have been exceedingly boring when it comes to division games
2012 : Entered up 6.5, closest it got was 3 but with four games left.
2013 : Entered down 15, closest it got was 8 with 12 left
2014 : Entered up 6.0, that was arguably the closest it got
2015 : Entered down 6.5, closest it got was out 4.0 on September 6th
2016 : Entered up 9.0, closest it reasonably got was up 8 on September 8th
So if I'm looking for an interesting, never seen it yet season and I can't have the easy season, I guess I want the Nats to go down to the wire with someone over first in the NL East. Of course I don't see that happening, and I think that you guys reading the blog would prefer the "OMG SO AWESOME" season, to a nail-biter one that might end with the Nats nudged out in the last week.
*You can blame Matt Williams if you like. I don't think that's fair, (he didn't crazy underperform in 2014), but I don't think it ultimately matters, either. 89 wins wouldn't have gotten the Nats in the playoffs, and I think that ultimately would have led to his firing. What would have been bad would have been a lucky year that snuck them in over the 90 win Mets.
**I liked the Braves to be a real threat if Dansby Swanson could become a star. Update : He's the worst hitter in the NL currently. .139 / .162 / .194 a .357 OPS.
***Thanks 75% to a complete Braves collapse and 25% to a hot streak to start August