Riding that Train

Think back to a time before the Washington Nationals had taken the field to play meaningful baseball. Perhaps in Spring Training or maybe even before that, but think back to what expectations you had for the 2012 season. If you were like me you had the Nats winning somewhere around 86 games. In order for the Nationals to do that now they would have to go 17-33. That now looks highly unlikely as the Nationals haven’t just been good, but they have been the best team in baseball and have played .616 baseball through 112 games. 

With just 50 games remaining in the season the big question is now where will the Nationals finish, and could they do something historic. First let’s break down some milestones. The Nationals have already passed the win totals for 2008, 2009, and matched 2009 with their 69th win last night. They are now 11 wins away from matching last season’s total and 13 away from the first winning record since moving to DC. All of those look like near certainties and it would take an epic collapse for the Nats not to reach them. 

The Nationals this season have defied all expectation so it is time to get a little more ambitious in our expectations. Of course ‘expectations‘ is the wrong word. No one should expect any of this to happen. With the Nationals this season the best thing to do is to sit back and enjoy it. The Nationals have the best team in baseball and one of the best pitching staffs ever assembled. It is past time to relax and watch what might be one of the better teams assembled in recent memory. 

The big milestones for the Nationals aren’t going to be easy and the first one up is the franchise best win total of 95 games set by the 1979 Montreal Expos. This happened in the day before the wild card and that team finished second in the NL East to the Pittsburgh Pirates and therefore didn’t make the division. In order for the Nationals to reach 95 games in 2012 they would have to play .520 ball down the stretch. Seeing as that is just over .500 baseball and the Nationals have played better than that all season long it looks doable. It is of course only the first milestone up.

The next one is much bigger and much harder. It is the city win total set by the 1933 Senators who were led by Joe Cronin, Ossie Bluege, and Goose Goslin to a 99-53 record. In order for the Nationals to beat that win total they would need 100 wins, and in order to do that they have to go 31-19 in their remaining games. That is a winning percentage of .620. For a teams that has played .616 ball on the season that looks in reach. Add in the fact that the Nationals have only 22 games remaining against teams with winning records and it starts to look even more within reach.

Now that win total of 100 is a bit of a lie for the city record as the 1933 Senators only played 152 games. Their winning percentage for the season was .651 which over a 162 game season is about 105 wins. In order for the Nationals to do that they would have to go 36-14 in the 50 games they have left. That is a winning percentage of .720, and now we are getting to win totals that look a little out of reach.

Looking at those milestones the question becomes how many games should the Nationals win. At their current winning percentage of .616 they are on pace to win 99 games, but the toughest part of the Nationals schedule is behind them. More than half of their remaining games are against teams with losing records, and the Nationals have a .672 winning percentage against such teams. If that holds then the Nationals should win 18 of those 28 remaining games. That would mean they only need to win 13 of the 22 games they have against winning clubs, and against winning clubs the Nats have played .533 ball meaning they should win around 11 of those remaining games, and would therefore have to play slightly better against those teams in order to reach 100.

It isn’t out of the question to expect the Nationals to play two games better against the remaining winning clubs they face than how they played against them early on in the season. When the Nationals played the Dodgers in LA they were missing Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, and Drew Storen. Every game against the Dodgers in LA was close and the Nationals had opportunities to win all three of them but didn’t. The Nationals winning percentage against winning teams is also dragged down by a sweep at the hands of the Yankees and from going 2-4 against the Orioles despite holding the edge in run differential in the season series.

The Nationals should be able to get 13 wins against the Diamondbacks, Giants, Braves, Cardinals, and Dodgers. Especially considering how they have played against the Diamondbacks, Giants, and Braves earlier in the season having won 13 of 18 against those clubs. The Nationals also have one further advantage win it comes to the march to 100. After finishing up their current 10 game road trip 27 of their remaining 44 games will be at Nationals Park. The statistics show that the Nationals are better on the road than at home, but a .593 winning percentage at home is still good. And make no mistake the Nationals would still rather play in front of their home fans than on the road, but good teams win no matter where they play and that is what the Nationals have done all season long.

Breaking it down and looking at it it does appear that winning 100 games is very reachable for the Washington Nationals. They have been extremely hot of late and have lost only one series since the All-Star break. They can’t possibly stay as hot as they have been having won 19 of 28 since the break. A winning percentage of .678. If the Nationals were able to keep that pace up until the end of the season they would finish with a record of 102-60.

As unlikely as 100 wins sounds it becomes more likely every time the Nationals win. No one expected the Nationals to even be within arm’s length of 100 victories when the season began, but here they are playing at a pace better than the one needed for 100 victories. At this point it would no longer be a surprise if the 2012 Nationals go down in history as the team with the most wins in Washington DC history. Don’t expect it, but don’t doubt it either. Sit back, strap in and let baseball take you where it goes.

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