It has certainly been a long and frustrating season for the Washington Nationals. Injuries, underperforming offense, and bullpen inconsistency have all led the Nats to where they are now: six games back of the NL Wild Card with just 18 games left and a division title that is out of reach. Of course, the team has started to play better recently in all respects, but time has all but run out on this season.
If you listened to our podcast this week, we talked about how well the offense has been hitting over the last month or so. Over the last 28 days, the Nats offense has posted a .283/.352/.454 slash line, which is pretty remarkable for a month of work especially considering their early season struggles at the plate. And for the first time all season, the Nats are six games above the .500 mark. There's a lot of reason to be encouraged by the improvements.
The fact still remains that the numbers stack up greatly against the Nationals as they move toward October. The Braves have long since run away with the NL East title, and the only team within some semblance of shouting distance in the NL Wild Card race is the Cincinnati Reds. Still, the Reds are six games ahead of the Nats. The Reds only have 16 games remaining this season, while the Nats have 18. This means that if the Reds go a mere .500 (8-8) for the rest of the season, the Nationals would have to go 15-3 just to tie and force a tiebreaker game before the one game Wild Card. If the Reds go 12-4 in their remaining 16 games, there is no scenario where the Nats could catch them, even if they go 18-0 in their remaining games. While 12-4 his a good record, it's hardly unreachable.
All of this is why the Nationals had a 1.2% chance of making the playoffs according to Baseball Prospectus entering Tuesday's game with the Mets, and it went up just to 1.6% afterwards, even with a Nats win and Reds loss. The odds are nearly impossible, and the Nats finding a way into the playoffs would be nothing short of a baseball miracle.
Next year, this team will largely be made of the same players and a new manager that may be able to pull the right strings and press the right buttons to get this team to perform up to their expectations. There is a lot to be encouraged about in that and in the way that they're finishing this season. For this season, though, it will be too little, too late.