The Nationals open a three-game series on Friday against the Philadelphia Phillies with 48 games left to salvage any remaining hope of reaching the playoffs. The NL East race appears all but decided with the Atlanta Braves boasting a 15 1/2-game lead over the Nationals, 16 1/2-game lead over the New York Mets and 17 1/2-game lead over the Phillies. According to coolstandings.com, the Braves have a 99.9 percent chance of winning the division, the highest odds of any division leader in baseball.
So the Nationals’ attention turns to the wild-card race. They sit 12 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the first wild-card spot and nine games behind the Cincinnati Reds for the second. The Arizona Diamondbacks are sandwiched between, trailing the Reds by 4 1/2 games. The Cardinals have a 98.4 percent chance of reaching the playoffs, while the Reds have slipped in recent weeks yet still have an 82.9 percent chance. The Diamondbacks’ odds sit at a disheartening 27.7 percent.
Now for the ugly stuff. The Nationals, with a 54-60 record, have a 1.7 percent chance of reaching the playoffs. And if you truly want to feel depressed about this disappointing Nationals season, coolstandings.com also gives the Mets, at 52-60, the same odds as the Nationals of reaching the playoffs.
After a strong start to the season, the Reds have tread water for months. On May 31, they were tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates for second place, two games behind the then-NL Central-leading Cardinals. Since then, the Pirates have gone on a 35-23 tear to improve to the best record in baseball at 70-44. The Reds, however, have gone 29-30 in that span. Their strong offense has slowed, averaging 3.9 runs per game in that span, and the pitching has still been good, a 3.65 ERA in those 59 games.
If the Nationals hope to catch the Reds, it will require the best stretch of baseball they’ve played all season and considerable help from their opponents. If the Reds were to play .500 the rest of the way, they would finish the season with a 87-75 record. Just to match that, the Nationals would have to go 33-15 over their final 48 games. Last season’s Nationals had a 33-15 stretch from late July to early September.
But given the way this season’s Nationals have played, it would take a quick correction of their season-long mistakes and their best baseball for seven straight weeks. Teams certainly have come back from smaller playoff odds and reached the postseason. (See here for proof.) The Diamondbacks’ remaining opponents’ combined winning percentage is .494 and the Reds’ opponents’ combined winning percentage is .489. The Nationals have a far easier road: their remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of .474, including 10 games against the Miami Marlins, seven against the Mets and nine against the Phillies.
The NL Central is a juggernaut. The Pirates haven’t slowed at all and the Cardinals, despite injuries, have drawn from a deep farm system of pitching and leaned on their NL-best offense. The Reds are a good team but flawed, and catching them isn’t outside the realm of possibility. It just seems unlikely given the deficit the Nationals would have to make up.
FROM THE POST
The season is over and there is plenty of blame to go around, writes Mike Wise.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 4, Pawtucket 0 (7): Jeff Mandel allowed only four hits over six scoreless innings. Michael Crotta pitched a scoreless seventh but walked two. Zach Walters hit his 26th home run. Tyler Moore went 2 for 3 and drove in three runs; he has 38 RBI in 36 games for Syracuse.
Syracuse 5, Pawtucket 4 (7): Taylor Hill made his Syracuse debut and allowed three runs on eight hits over 4 2/3 innings. Mark Lowe gave up a run, Xavier Cedeno walked two and Erik Davis notched the save despite a hit and a walk. Chris Marrero went 2 for 3 and drove in two. Corey Brown, Chris Rahl and Josh Johnson also smacked two hits.
Harrisburg 4, Reading 1: Nate Karns struck out five, walked three and allowed one run on five hits over seven innings. Aaron Barrett, who has a 2.42 ERA, notched his 21st save. Billy Burns went 2 for 3 with two RBI. Justin Bloxom drew two walks.
Myrtle Beach 7, Potomac 6 (11): Brian Rauh tossed six scoreless innings and lowered his ERA to 3.02. Rafael Martin, with a 1.15 ERA, blew his first save. Kevin Keyes hit his 11th home run and Mike Gilmartin added his third. Brandon Miller went 2 for 5.
Lexington 5, Hagerstown 1: Nick Lee coughed up four runs, five walks and struck out nine over 4 2/3 innings. Ronald Pena allowed only one run, unearned, over the final 3 1/3 innings. Shawn Pleffner went 1 for 4 and an RBI.