With 40 games left to play (and 30 NL East rivalry games remaining), the Washington Nationals stand eight games ahead of the second-place Miami Marlins. Even though the Nationals have some breathing room in the East, the Nats currently hold winning records against all their division opponents. The team can’t afford to lose their focus over the next two months. But, is it possible that Washington’s schedule presents disadvantages for an October-bound team that likely won’t play a “must-win” game again this season?
We can only hope that if the Nats and the Giants meet in October it has the same outcome. The Nationals have 13 games left against the Braves and seven against the Phillies.
That is a lot of games against some bad teams. This was the criticism of the Nats hot start. That they didn’t earn it because they were beating up on the Marlins and Braves. Turns out the Marlins were actually good and the Nats only played the Braves six times at the start of the season. The big question is can the Nats stay sharp while facing a bunch of patsies down the stretch.
I’ve always been a believer that in sports you train above what you’re trying to do. If a fighter is preparing for a 15 round fight then he should train for 18. It’s important to be sharp in those last few rounds. Baseball is different, though. Even if the Nats were facing the Cubs or Giants a bunch in September they might only catch the back end of their rotations with their front and Bochy might be resting certain relievers on those days or be giving starters days off. In the playoffs, it’s going to be your top guy against their’s and no one is going to be getting a day off.
While the Cubs and Giants at their worst are still better than the Braves at their best there is no guarantee that the Nats would be tested against those better foes. The Braves in September are also going to be a better Braves team than they have been at any point this season. Expect some of their high ranking prospects to actually be getting playing time and that could test the Nats more than a Cubs team that has everything locked up and it’s not like the Nats aren’t going to rest more players when they lock things up.
The idea that fighting until the end is beneficial is a myth. The Nats hitters are still going to face pitchers that are trying to get them out and the Nats pitchers are still going to be facing hitters that want to get hits. And, let’s face it – there isn’t a bigger test for a Nats pitcher than Freddie Freeman, and even if the Nats go 13-0 against the Braves they can still make it work by trying to score 10 runs a night or shut them out every night. If beating the Braves by itself isn’t enough of a test the Nats will just have to make it one.
The baseball pundits of the world are on the cusp of getting their wish: the Washington Nationals soaring back into a playoff spot. If you take some time to dig through the various “expert predictions” that were released throughout the winter, the Nationals were a common fixture to represent the National League in the World Series.