Nationals Baseball: Stop Worrying! ... (mostly)

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Stop Worrying! ... (mostly)

There is this weird dichotomy that I see going on that suggests fans fully believe the NL East title is out of reach but also believe the Nats have a fairly good shot at losing their playoff spot. This is despite the fact that these things are about as equally likely. 

The division sits 7 games away and so simply put the Nats have to play 7 games better than the Braves the rest of the way to take it.  That's hard. It's not impossible. The Braves have 22 games left.  Their worst 22 game stretch this year was 9-13.  The Nats have 24 games left. Their best streak was 19-5.  That would do it. But this doesn't take into account who they are playing or the circumstances that led to these streaks. The Nats have a harder schedule now compared to during that streak. Hell, they have a harder schedule than the Braves. 19-5 is very very unlikely. Even shifting down to a impressive 17-7 means the Braves only have to go 11-11 to hold on. But the Braves schedule is pretty easy and .500 is below what you'd predict for them.

This is all to say the NL East title is not going to happen because it would take the Braves playing worse than .500 ball against a schedule where you'd expect they'd be several games better than that, and the Nats playing several games over .500 against a schedule you'd probably have them close to .500.

The saving grace, the only thing that makes it not impossible, is the 7 H2H games. In these every Nats win is a Braves loss and you don't have to rely on another independent event going your way.  If the Nats can dominate 7-0, 6-1 there's a chance. You don't expect them to but this is where the door can open.  Of course that means right away the Nats can't lose this upcoming 4 game series. 1-3 or worse closes the door completely. A split may not do it officially but it pretty much sets up a Nats run the table, Braves fall apart scenario, including the Nats sweeping the Braves one series later.

But no one is really denying the above. There's a very slim chance out there if the Nats can crush the Braves H2H. Everyone gets this. What everyone doesn't get is the same kind of low chance exists on the other side, for the Nats dropping out of the playoffs.

The Nats sit comfortably 3 games ahead of the Cubs in WC1, 6 games ahead of the D-backs and Phillies.  To lose the WC three things need to happen

1) The Nats have to play poorly enough to make it possible. Much like the Braves going .500 forces the Nats to play nearly perfect baseball, the Nats playing .500 would do the same for any of the teams chasing down a WC spot. If the Nats can go 12-12 that means the worst a team could do and catch them is 17-5/18-6. That's the worst.

2) Another team has to have their best run of the season now. Let's say the Nats slip and go 10-14 or 11-13, that's possible against a tougher schedule. well it leaves a door open for a 15-7 or 16-8 run to catch them. That's still unlikely but we're getting into the realm of possibility especially with four teams chasing them down.  The most likely scenario here is the D-backs, with their easy schedule, manage to do it. The Phillies will have a tough time making this run if they couldn't pull off something similar in the past two weeks when they had a better chance. Their saving grace is the H2H games at the end of the year. The Mets have an outside shot given their schedule at the end but being a game and a half further out makes it that much harder. The Brewers... poor poor Brewers, well they're here because it's not impossible. 

The chances that a team has that run is slim, but the chances that any one of these four have that run? Also slim! But not quite as slim!

3) But that's not it because remember the Nats are ahead of the Cubs right now and would have to fall behind them or the Cardinals to end the year as well in this scenario (because I'm not buying two teams chasing the Nats from the four above having incredible end of the season runs). That's not impossible but given they still play each other 7 times that complicates things. If the Cardinals take 5 of 7 the Cubs  would have to go around a very good 11-6 in the rest of their games to pass the Nats. If the Cubs take 5 of 7 the Cardinals have to go 8-8 or better. These aren't necessarily that crazy but you are saying a team that is bad enough to go 2-5 in these games are going to play .500 ball or better in their other games. That doesn't seem too crazy but the Cards do face the D-backs still. So they'll have to find a way likely to lose that series and still go .500. Sweeping the Nats would be a big one.

Looking at the above the most likely inside straight draw the NL could make on the Nats is as follows :
The D-backs go 16-6
The Cubs go 14-10, including beating the Cardinals 5 out of 7 games
The Cardinals despite being beat up by the Cubs, go 9-7 in their other games and 11-12 over their last 23


The Nats do themselves in going 10-14. 

If you want to picture it in your head - the Nats scuffle over the Nest 10 games vs ATL and MIN, going like 4-6, then they get swept by STL. They beat MIA but are at 6-10 now and can't turn it on enough against PHI and CLE to get back going 4-4.

That's the MOST likely way the Nats miss the playoffs. It's a series of things that aren't super likely. Which is why most odds sites have them pretty much in.

But this will all clear up the further we go along. Which each Nats win and each rival loss this scenario becomes less likely.  Go 6-4 and not 4-6 in these 10 and you almost put it to bed.


coolsny said...

When the Nats lose in the wild card to the Dbacks I demand you do a nice long Juan Soto appreciation post, with pictures, to carry me into the offseason

Harper said...

Losing the WC spot to the D-Backs sure. Losing IN the WC to the D-Backs, no promises. That totally could happen. It's one game!

cass said...

At the epic Tuesday night game, I found myself mostly scoreboard-watching the Cubs. Atlanta is uncatchable barring a double sweep and the Nats are too far ahead of everyone but the Cubs to bother paying much attention.

But home field advantage for the Wild Card Game is definitely up for grabs. Nats played well at Wrigley recently but if they lose home field advantage, they could easily not have a single home playoff game this year. And if we're going to be in the stupid wild card game, I'd like to be able to be there in person. So I'm rooting hard for them to host the WC game here in DC and I think that's worth caring about. Gives them a 10% advantage or so (55-45 vs 45-55) vs hosting it in Chicago too, which is a lot when the whole season rides on one game.

Go Nats and whoever is playing the Cubs!

Harper said...

cass - Yes - if you want to watch something - watch the Cubs. If they win - the story is if the Nats can hold on to WC1 and the home game. If they lose - the story is "who are the Nats going to face"

cass said...

Some Soto appreciation to start things off:

I was at the front of the upper deck behind home plate for the miracle game so I couldn't see anyone's facial expressions. But when I got home I rewatched the bottom of the ninth with the Nats radio feed (since I heard Slowes had a great call as usual), the most striking thing I noticed was Soto's expressions facing Avilan in the 9th.

He was grinning this huge grin like he was really excited to be hitting in this still very bleak situation where the odds said the Nats still almost certainly were going to lose. When Avilan took too long and he stepped out he grinned even more. Does anyone have so much fun at their job? So thankful he signed with us and Rizzo never traded him away. What a joy and what a talent. And he keeps improving and working to eliminate his weaknesses.

Hopefully we can have a Soto in the Postseason Appreciation Post

G Cracka X said...

Thanks for this post. I was definitely in the 'Nats can't win the division, but could fall out of the playoffs' camp. Now, less so, though even with this post, I fear two teams going on a huge end-of-year streak while the Nats fritter away in a tough schedule. Unlikely, but still....

The bigger concern right now is losing HFA in the WC game. Go Cubs opponents!!!

Zimmerman11 said...

"IN" but only to a WC game. I'm resigned if we don't sweep ATL that we'll likely have a WC game at least... but since my goal for the year was to at least get out of the NLDS, adding a one-game play-in makes an NLCS appearance less likely.

Mostly I'm worried about how healthy Max is. Not September drama.

Cautiously Pessimistic said...

It really is unfortunate that the Nats had to dig themselves such a huge hole to start the year. Because they are clearly one of the 3 best teams in the NL and top 5 overall. Had they simply gone .500 during that 19-31 stretch, the Nats would be a single game back and this whole conversation would be very different.

But as alluded to, the Braves have a far easier schedule and it's likely that the Nats would still be destined for a WC berth anyway...

JWLumley said...

I'm not really worried about the NL East or the WC. Here's what I'm looking at. The Nats should have a good chance at winning the Wild Card game, so what matters? The bullpen is still awful. Matt Adams is having a very Matt Adams second half. Eaton going down is a big loss, because walk-up music aside, Gerardo Parra has reverted to the guy the Giants DFA'd. I'm okay with a wild card game started by Strasurg. What concerns me is that DM is going to try to unnecessarily use Anibal Sanchez in the playoffs, when he could and should be skipped. What also concerns me is that Gomes is going to see action in the playoffs despite being awful.

Also, what happened to Brian Dozier? Does he still play for the Nats? If you're not going to use Dozier why not play the guy that can actually field the position in Howie Kendrick. Watching Cabrera is like watching someone play second base with cement bricks on their feet.

Still, looking forward to being at the game tomorrow. I'll be the guy in the Nats hat.

cass said...

Taylor in RF, Kendrick at 1B, Dozier at 2B.

Gonna be tough with a second pitcher in the lineup (sorry, MAT) but I like that outfield defense.

Ole PBN said...

Really not sure why MAT was called up. Even more unsure why he's starting tonight in a very important game. He hit .248 in AA.... are we serious right now?

Overvaluing defense again I see :(

Matt said...

^LHP. He hits lefties OK and Parra/Stevenson are lefties. (Also why Dozier is playing). Now, once Atlanta puts in a righthanded reliever, if they don't get pinch hit for I will get mad.

Sammy Kent said...


Nattydread said...

So, fans fall into 4 basic categories:

Optimistic optimists: Nothing but the division title will suffice and its not over until it says "E" in the elimination column.

Pessimistic pessimists: Eyes always on the rear view mirror. Nats are gonna collapse and get caught by the streaking Diamondbacks. DM can do no good.

Optimistic pessimists: Expect Nats to fall to the second wildcard position, lose WC game.

Pessimistic Optimists: Believe Nats will keep lead WC position. Worried about Scherzer's recovery for the WC game.

BxJaycobb said...

@NattyDread. Funny, but over simplifying obviously. My basic take is:
1. The Nats have a *brutal* final month. The way they don’t make the WC game is they collapse against an extremely hard schedule due to (1) bullpen finally catching up to them and blowing most of the games where they have a lead; (2) Rendon and Soto finally cooling off, as the Eaton injury weakens the lineup, etc: (3) the rotation is uniformly worse than it has been. Thing is, these things are all showing some warning signs to me. Not enough to really get worried yet, but all I’m saying is this....if the Braves sweep the Nats in 4 games, there will be a lot of people suddenly going from “it can’t happen! to “Oh no!”. Lots of things can happen in a 24 game sample, and I don’t think it’s that* unlikely that the Nats go like 9-15 as the DBacks go like 15-9 or whatever. The fact is, no team in MLB history has made the playoffs with a bullpen with an ERA like the Nats. Ever. They may make history, but that fact exists for a reason. They are beating the odds....

2. All that being said, the Nats will be in the WC game if they play decent baseball. And as I just said, they will have the *worst* bullpen by ERA OF ANY PLAYOFF TEAM EVER. For that reason, I guess I am just not that optimistic about them going very far this year. They are about as flawed as a team can be that has just rattled off 3 dominant months.

3. The Cubs are our most likely opponent. They also are healthy for literally the first time all year, and will be tougher than when we recently played them and they were missing Contreras and Zobrist (both back).

4. I think Davey has overall been fine this year. With one utterly unforgivable exception. So help me god....if this guy doesn’t start automatically slotting in Kendrick at 1B/2B in games that matter.....I don’t care if u play Zim at 1B so long as u play Howie at 2B. I don’t care if you play Dozier so long as u play Howie at 1B. Just make sure you (1) are playing Kendrick and (2) are not playing Matt Adams, who is not good at either hitting (cannot get on base at all) or fielding (good heavens.)

Ole PBN said...

Saw Elias re-injured his hamstring. Word? Question is, with Doo as the only lefty in the pen, you figure they have to bring another lefty up, but who is it going to be? Sam Freeman? I have no idea who that is. Matt Gra--nevermind... Freeman looks good to me.

Curious what happened to Greg Holland. Is he still in our system or did he get dumped? Haven't hear a peep about him playing in DC since we signed him a little while ago. Assumed he would get the call...?

G Cracka X said...

I see the Nats remaining schedule as divided into the rough, and then the 'not as rough'. These next 12 games (6 ATL, 3 @MIN, 3 @STL) will be one of the toughest stretches of the season, but they should be fine as long as they don't implode during that first period. @MIA, PHI, and CLE isn't a cake walk, but overall much easier. Nats WC chances are still in the 90s per 538 and FG, so they're not doomed yet. Agree with the overall tenor of BxJ that we do see some overall warning signs. If not for the 'Miracle of the Year', the Nats would have lost 4 straight. Hopefully they can still split with ATL

Sammy Kent said...

We're done. Even if the Nationals win the last six against the Braves we're not going to catch them. Frankly, I hope the Cardinals take them out in three games. If somehow the Cubs win the Central I'm rooting for a giant sinkhole.

I'm just getting very angry thinking about who is probably still going to be here next season (Kevin Long, Davey Martinez, Mike Rizzo, the worst bullpen in baseball, and Cheapskate Mark Lerner) and who probably isn't (Anthony Rendon.)

Mr. T said...

Is it really possible for a Nats fan to be an optimistic optimist, or even an optimistic pessimist? Or a pessimistic optimist? Following this team since 2012 has been an educational experience, in that I've learned to appreciate to all the ways a baseball team can possibly break your heart. This year has seemed different, maybe it has something to do with Bryce being gone, or maybe it's just random, but I haven't had that feeling of "uh oh, they're gonna collapse now" that was so prevalent in years past. Reading Harper's post made me think, "oh okay, good!" And then, "dammit, he just laid out exactly what's gonna happen," and then, "but no, this year's different!" Here's hoping, anyway.

Anonymous said...

I'm worrying. Bats / clutch hitting / defense are way off playing divisional competition.

Please Cleveland, lock in your end of year status before we play.