Washington Nationals: Nats Control Their Playoff Destiny
By Danny Kelly
The Washington Nationals are 41-22 since they were swept in a four-game series against the New York Mets on May 23rd. The Nationals are also 5-5 in their last ten games and 13-11 since the second half started, making this team an incredibly difficult one to figure out.
Sitting at 60-53 overall, the Washington Nationals own the top Wild Card spot. Fangraphs.com gives the Nationals a slightly better than a three in four chance of making the playoffs, which is 4th highest in the Nationals League. The thing is, there are currently seven teams within three games of each other in the Wild Card standings and the Nationals just lost two of three to an Arizona Diamondbacks team who is one of those seven battling for a spot.
The good news, however, is that the Nationals essentially control their playoff destiny. Of their 49 remaining games, the Nationals play 21 of those against teams they’re fighting for a playoff spot against. Another 12 games are against the Pirates, Orioles, and Marlins, who own a combined .387 winning percentage.
If the Nationals can beat up on those teams and play slightly above .500 baseball in their games against the Giants, Mets, Brewers, Cubs, Cardinals, and Phillies, they’ll be in excellent shape. Other Wild Card contenders don’t have the opportunity to go head-to-head against other contenders down the stretch as the Nationals do.
A revamped bullpen featuring Daniel Hudson and Hunter Strickland (also Roenis Elias when he returns) is going to help the Nationals win close games down the stretch. On most nights, Davey Martinez has shown that he plans to use a combination of Stickland and Wander Suero in the 7th inning with Fernando Rodney remaining his set-up man. In most of his outings, it looks like Hudson will be used as the Nationals “fireman” since he’s stranded an outstanding 26 of 27 inherited runners this season.
The health of Max Scherzer will be critical in this stretch. The sooner Scherzer is back, the better, but if he’s able to return by the August 16-18 series against the Brewers, that would be a massive boost for the Nationals and their playoff chances. Not only would it knock one of Joe Ross or Erick Fedde out of the rotation, but it would also potentially put Scherzer on track to make starts against five of the seven teams the Nationals are battling for a playoff spot against.
It’s time for the Nationals to buckle back down for the stretch run and take care of business. The season is just over 69% of the way over at this point, and a playoff spot is within reach. Time to finish the job and start imagining playoff series where the Nationals can send Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin out as their top three starters in the NLDS.