With the Nationals’ 6-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday and coupled with an Atlanta Braves’ win, Washington’s lead in the National League East fell to 4 1/2 games. That’s the smallest lead since Aug. 28 at the tail end of a five-game losing streak that some worried had ended their season. But any fears that the Nationals are collapsing near the finish line can be assuaged with a simple breakdown of the remaining schedule.
The Nationals (92-60) have 10 games remaining. The Braves (88-65) have nine games left and are idle on Monday. The Nationals can go 5-5 over the final week and a half of the season and the Braves would have to go 9-0 to finish tied for the division. Sure, the Braves have an easier schedule to close the season, but they would have to play better than their best this season to snatch away the division. Atlanta’s longest winning streak this season was a seven-game swing, most recently in late July.
Sure, the Nationals’ winning rate has slowed down only a slight tick over the past two weeks. But it’s only become notable because it’s late in the season and the Braves continue to win. Over the past 20 games, the Nationals are 12-8 — still better than league average. (The Braves are 14-6 over that span.) Over their past 10 games, the Nationals are 4-6, which includes a three-game sweep at the hands of the Braves.
If the Nationals went 4-6 over their final ten games, the Braves would have to be perfect over their final nine games to claim the division crown. And if you’re concerned about the way the Nationals have played over the past 20 games, a 12-8 record, this will allay that concern: that’s a .600 winning percentage — and if a team does that over the length of a season that’s a playoff winning percentage and very likely good enough to win a division.
The Nationals don’t have an easy remaining schedule with a game against contending Milwaukee left, then three games in tough Philadelphia, three games against potential wild card St. Louis Cardinals and again against the Phillies. The Braves have the easier schedule of the two teams, with series against the Miami Marlins and New York Mets. They close the season with a three-game set against the collapsing Pittsburgh Pirates, who sit at two games under .500.
The Nationals still can’t rest comfortably nor do they feel that way. They understand their larger goal of securing their first division crown is still unfulfilled. But given how well they played this summer, they built themselves enough of a cushion for minor slip-ups here and there. And now, they still control their own destiny and the division lead. It would take a dramatic collapse and a perfect finish by their opponent for them to squander it.
FROM TODAY’S POST
Nationals lose one in the sun, and fall 6-2 to the Brewers, Adam Kilgore writes.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
Nats’ magic number to win the division: 6
Current NL matchups
Nationals vs. Braves/Cardinals*
Reds vs. Giants
*The Braves lead the Cardinals by six games. The Cardinals lead the Brewers by 2 1/2 games, the Dodgers by three games and the Diamondbacks by 4 1/2 games.