All the Washington Nationals had to do this past weekend was win a series, something they had done 29 times already this season, and the magic number would have dropped to seven with 16 games left. If they had swept the series, it would have been five games. Unfortunately, the Nats weren’t able to take a single game from the Atlanta Braves, which left the magic number sitting at 11 with 16 games left. Until this past weekend, the Nats had been 10-5 against Atlanta this season, and very few could have predicted a sweep at their hands. I’m here to tell you why, even as bad as you feel right now, it probably won’t matter.
After sweeping the New York Mets and then being swept by the Braves on the road trip, the Nats went .500 over those six games. In the same six-game stretch by the Braves, they were swept by the Milwaukee Brewers and then swept the Nationals to go, you guessed it, .500. So all the Braves did by sweeping the Nats was make up the games that it lost from the previous three, and the Nats have a 5.5 game lead on the NL East.
Even after being swept by their chief rival this season, the Nats still have the best record in the majors, and they are still the only team in baseball with a winning percentage over .600. With this and the number of games left, it still is extremely difficult for the Braves to overtake the Nationals before the season ends on October 3.
At 89-57, or 32 games over .500, if the Nationals went 7-9 for the remainder of the season, they’d end at 96-66. In this scenario, the Braves (84-63) would have to go 12-3 to tie the division lead and 13-2 to win it. Is it possible that the Braves could only lose two or three games for the rest of the season? Sure, it is. Is it likely? Probably not. That’d be an .867 winning percentage over half a month of baseball.
On top of that, what are the odds that the Nationals, who have a .610 winning percentage on the season and are the only team in baseball without a losing month this season, would all of a sudden post a .437 winning percentage over the course of the final half month? Again, pretty low.
So yes, it is possible that the Nats may blow their lead and lose the division, but it would have to be a collapse more historic than the Braves 2011 collapse. Atlanta went 5-11 in their final 16 to lose a spot in the MLB postseason. Now, the Nats have all but locked down at least a wild card spot with the magic number to clinch a birth in the wild card game at three. No one wants it to come to that, though, and I’m confident the Nationals won’t let it get there. You should be, too.
Just based on the numbers, all true. But of greater concern to me is how the Nats responded in what everyone, including the Nats, characterized as 'playoff baseball' - i.e., they choked. This is a young team that's never been this close to the playoffs before and I think they all played like they were tense and lacked focus. Hopefully, this go-round with playoff baseball when it doesn't really matter will get the nerves & freak-outs out of their systems. Alternatively, as the real playoffs get closer, the team will start to realize more & more how close they're getting and then they'll truly collapse.