As of Wednesday morning, the Washington Nationals are in fourth place and 4.5 games back of 1st place in the NL East, a division they were supposed to run away with. Though they have dug themselves something of a hole, all is not lost.
First, the bad news: The Nats have struggled to string together wins, stay healthy and consistently score runs. With the bad news out of the way, the upcoming schedule gives plenty of hope that Washington still ends the season atop the East leaderboard. Consider this: The Nats have already gone on their difficult West Coast road trip, playing the Dodgers and Giants with a trip to San Diego and Arizona coming in early May.
The New York Mets, the biggest threat in the division, have only traveled to San Diego, with road trips to Arizona/Colorado and San Francisco/Los Angeles upcoming in June and September, respectively. The Nationals have yet to play the upstart Phillies and the dreadful Miami Marlins, while the Mets have played one series against the Fish.
By May 20, the Nationals will have played 48 games, 28 of them against the Mets (six), the Dodgers (six), the Diamondbacks (seven), the Giants (three), the Pirates (four), and the Yankees (two). Besides the disappointing yet unquestionably talented Dodgers, these teams are all above .500 and either first or second in the division. Add in four against the .500 Rockies (third in the West) and nine combined against the surprisingly competent Braves and Phillies, you will see that the Nats will have played a combined six games out of 48 against legitimately bad teams (Cincinnati and San Diego).
In the 15 games following May 20, the Nationals have series against the Padres, Marlins, Orioles, Braves, and Rays. Prior to the All-Star Break, the Nats play only eight non-division games against current above-.500 teams. The Nats will only have relatively tough non-division games against the Cubs; the NL West and AL East teams will already be out of the way by that point.
What does it all mean? A few things, both good and bad. The issue with having a front-loaded schedule is that the Nationals are currently without three of their starting eight position players. Injury is clearly a big reason why they entered May three games below .500, and it will continue to hamper their offense while they play some of the league’s best. Winning games against good teams is going to be hard shorthanded.
The Nationals could get fully healthy right as they run into an extremely easy part of their schedule. They are more than capable of winning at a rate comparable to the Boston Red Sox April this season (21-7 entering May), especially if the starting pitching can continue to stay healthy. With the Mets’ difficult mid-summer schedule, rapid gains in the division are reasonable.
All this to say that the Nationals hit a perfect storm of injury problems, below average hitting performances, and a rough early-season schedule. That they enter the second day of May trailing the division-leading Mets by 4.5 games, a deficit that can be made up in one good month, isn’t the worst that could have happened. There is plenty of time, plenty of talent, and a favorable schedule on Washington’s side.
Keep the faith, everyone. After all, we are not Panic Citi.Tags: Nationals, Nats, Washington Nationals