Nationals aren’t playing down to their opponents

September 6, 2012
Nationals
Richard Lipski/AP

The Nationals obliterated the Cubs on Tuesday and Wednesday, and eked out a win on Monday. Three wins against a team that is already long out of playoff contention and carries the second worst record in baseball. But, really, the Nationals should be doing this, beating up and bullying teams in that position. 

Other than only a few slip-ups this season, the Nationals have done that well. They are second in the majors with most wins against teams with a record under .500. They are 55-29, just behind the Cincinnati Reds‘ record of 56-29. In years past, it was the Nationals who would be in the midst of losing seasons and get excited, or geared up as players say, to play the better teams. Now, it’s the reverse, with losing teams gunning to nab even one game in a series from the Nationals.

“Good teams take nothing for granted,” Nationals Manager Davey Johnson said following Wednesday’s 9-1 win of the Cubs. “The cellar guys down at the bottom they a lot of times have more energy, more to prove by beating the guys at the top. We’ve been down there enough we know what it’s like and we’re not letting up. I talked to the skipper over there and he was a little worried he didn’t have some long relief pitchers and that kind of stuff. I said ‘I know what it’s like.’ … Maybe he was looking for sympathy. And I didn’t have a whole lot, but I had a little.”

Their record against losing teams is partly deceiving because, of course, the Nationals don’t choose who they play. As of now, the Nationals have the ninth easiest strength of schedule in the majors, based on the .496  combined winning percentage of their opponents. The Reds, for that matter, have the second easiest schedule: opponents combined winning percentage of .486. 

With the collapses of the Philadelphia Phillies and Miami Marlins this season, the Nationals have taken advantage of their opportunity and push on to not only be the best team in the division but carry the best record in baseball. Last year, when the Phillies and Braves battled out for a playoff spot, the Nationals had a tougher road, the 10th toughest opponents winning percentage in the majors at .502.

But that doesn’t mean the Nationals haven’t handled winning teams this season. They have the best winning percentage against teams at .500 or higher, a record of 29-23 against them. They hold a slim edge over the Detroit Tigers, who are 39-31 against winning teams. While the Nationals may have gotten fewer opportunities against winning teams based on their division and schedule, they have won the games that they needed to against losing and winning teams in order to be in this position.

“We’re a team that goes out there every single day, we don’t want a letdown to anybody,” outfielder Bryce Harper said. “We don’t want to play down or up.”

More from The Washington Post

Nats dismantle the Cubs

Espinosa is key to offensive outburst

Harper’s handy celebration

 Seven Nationals getting married

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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