So it was odd earlier in the week, when the Nationals completed their sweep of the Mets, to listen to players in the visiting clubhouse at Citi Field trying to downplay what was in the process of happening. The Nationals not only hold a commanding lead over the Braves, they have the best record in baseball.
“I don’t even know what the lead is, to tell you the truth,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said.
On that night, it had grown to 81
2 games. And the “magic number” dropped to 11.
That number will continue appear on the Post’s front page until the Nationals clinch the division. (Yes, we know this could be seen as a jinx. But dream for a minute.)
Here’s the formula: G + 1 - W(a) - L(b) where G is the total number of games in the season (162), W(a) is the number of wins for the team in first place and L(b) is the number of losses for the team in second. After the Nationals’ 5-4 loss Saturday, W(a) is 89 (and a Washington team hasn’t won 90 games since those 1933 Senators). L(b) is 63, the Braves’ losses. And the equation becomes 162 + 1 - 89 - 63 = 11.
The way to think of what’s to come, as the Nationals play one more game in Atlanta Sunday night before returning home to face the Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers, is that any combination of Braves losses and Nationals wins equaling 11 will mathematically eliminate the Braves from contention. With each Nats win, the number will go down one. With each Braves loss, it will go down one more — with the outside possibility that the Philadelphia Phillies, should they overtake the Braves, could affect the number as well.
There is scant evidence that, 79 years ago, the phrase “magic number” existed. In 1933, as the Senators closed in on the American League pennant, the Post noted that “Only four more victories in their remaining 11 games are needed by the Nats to clinch the pennant beyond mathematical doubt, even if the Yankees should win all of their 15 remaining games.”
That, then, is the number accompanying this story explained. Barring something unexpected, it should decrease over the next week. If and when it hits zero, hang on — because Washington will be in for something it hasn’t experienced in nearly eight decades.