Can the Nats win the NL East without beating the Braves?


(Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports)

Between the seven errors, injuries to Denard Span and Ryan Zimmerman and a three-game sweep that left them 7-18 against the Braves since the start of last season, the Nationals’ trip to Atlanta couldn’t have gone much worse. The good news is that Washington doesn’t play the Braves again until June 19, by which point the Nats, assuming they continue beating everyone not named Atlanta, should be 66-5.

“They’ve come out on the winning side of it more than we’d like,” GM Mike Rizzo said of the Braves before Sunday’s 10-2 loss. “But we feel confident against this team. We feel we’re better than this team. We respect them and we respect their organization. But we don’t fear them. We think we’re the better team and at the end of the day we’re going to come out on top.”

April isn’t the “end of the day,” and maybe the Nationals are the better team, but at some point, don’t they have to beat the Braves to prove it? During his regular Saturday morning show on ESPN 980, Al Galdi declared the Braves the Nationals’ daddies, as then-Red Sox starter Pedro Martinez said of the New York Yankees in September 2004.

“It’s pretty hard to see the Nats winning the National League East this season if they only win around a third of their games with the Braves,” Galdi said. “It’s possible, but it sure doesn’t seem likely, winning your division when you routinely lose to the team that primarily is contending with you for that division title.”

I was curious just how uncommon it is for a team to win a division with a losing record against its closest competition in the division.

Over the last five seasons, 24 of the 30 division champions finished with a .500 or better record against the team that finished second in the division. The six instances in which the division champ lost the season series to the runner-up are in bold. It’s interesting to note that the 2010 Reds won the NL Central by five games despite losing two-thirds of their games against runner-up St. Louis. That same year, San Francisco won the NL West despite going 6-12 against San Diego, and went on to win the World Series.

2013
Red Sox vs. Rays, 12-7
Tigers vs. Indians, 15-4
A’s vs. Rangers, 10-9
Braves vs. Nationals, 13-6
Cardinals vs. Pirates, 9-10
Dodgers vs. Diamondbacks, 9-10

2012
Yankees vs. Orioles, 9-9
Tigers vs. White Sox, 12-6
A’s vs. Rangers, 11-8
Nationals vs. Braves, 10-8
Reds vs. Cardinals, 7-8
Giants vs. Dodgers, 10-8

2011
Yankees vs. Rays, 9-9
Tigers vs. Indians, 12-6
Rangers vs. Angels, 12-7
Phillies vs. Braves, 12-6
Brewers vs. Cardinals, 9-9
Diamondbacks  vs. Giants, 9-9

2010
Rays vs. Yankees, 10-8
Twins vs. White Sox, 13-5
Rangers vs. A’s, 10-9
Phillies vs. Braves, 10-8
Reds vs. Cardinals, 6-12
Giants vs. Padres, 6-12

2009
Yankees vs. Red Sox, 9-9
Twins vs. Tigers, 12-7
Angels vs. Rangers, 8-11
Phillies vs. Marlins, 9-9
Cardinals vs. Cubs, 10-6
Dodgers vs. Rockies, 14-4

Scott Allen writes about all things D.C. sports. Follow him on Twitter @ScottSAllen or e-mail him if you’ve got a tip to share.

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Dan Steinberg · April 14, 2014

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