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Sports Monday: Why the Nats could go all the way

It’s not clear to me how someone can be a baseball “fanatic.” The game is so mellow, so pastoral. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack: This is not a sport where grown men go shirtless with body paint.

I went to Nationals Park the other day and did not exactly follow every pitch. Instead I spent about an hour just circumnavigating the stadium. The place is endearingly compartmentalized and layered and staggered and full of weird alcoves and surprising lounge areas, with a nice bar behind the center field scoreboard, and another, the Red Loft, stationed high above left-center field, and after the half-way point you can slip into almost any empty seat in any section of the stadium. There are many good angles on the action below. I could easily have slipped into a shady seat and nodded off — just like watching baseball at home!

The easy-come, easy-go, no-sweat nature of the experience had a lot to do with the decision by the Chicago Cubs to trade away the scheduled starting pitcher, and instead hand the ball to a long reliever who was not equal to the task. It was a blowout win by the Nats, with sustained gale-force winds.  The final score, 13-0, was deceptive. It wasn’t that close.

One of my Best Practices in the baseball season is to check the ESPN standings, which include a statistical probability of a team making the playoffs. The Nats, after winning two of three from the Cubs, are sitting at 75 percent, a reassuring figure. Until you look more closely.

The Nats aren’t actually in first place in the National League East. They’re half a game behind the Braves, who have been on a tear. If that continues, the Nats would have to get one of the two — yes, two, in case you were confused on this point — wild card slots. But the wild card race has a ton of very good teams, including St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. The Nats are only 1.5 games ahead of Pittsburgh for the second wild card spot. That’s the kind of lead that could be gone by Tuesday night. So I’m just not seeing where the 75 percent probability comes in. It feels flimsier than that. I need to run the numbers again. I need to call my local sabermetrician.

All that said: I think the Nats could make it deep into the playoffs this year. They’re healthy at the moment and the lineup is “long,” as they say. It’s a bad sign for opposing pitchers when your number 8 hitter is a slugger like Wilson Ramos, and your number 7 hitter is leading the team in RBIs and home runs.

The only guy on the team to make the All-Star game is Jordan Zimmermann (Anthony Rendon has a shot still if a fan-favorite vote-off later this week), but there are some other pitchers who are All-Star quality. This is the best pitching staff in baseball.

I got a feeling about this team. I’m all-in! FANATICALLY.

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."



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Joel Achenbach · July 1, 2014

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