A collapse is defined here as the Nationals not making the playoffs. They are currently leading the third best wild card team by 10 games with 38 games to play. Using the term collapse if they lose the divisional title to the Braves means dropping 6 games to them with 38 games to play. I went through this thought process after remembering from my youth how the Phillies lost a 6 game lead with 12 games to go in 1964. My irrational side, which we probably all have, tries to overwhelme my rational side to tell me the Nationals 2012 season is smoke and mirrors, so it will change at any moment. After a bit of research to augment my somewhat fading memory I found that the 1964 Phillies grossly overworked their ‘closer' and their starting staff. Their two best pitchers, Bunting and Short, were used with three days rest several times in that season, especially late in the year. It has been said that the Braves overworked their primary late inning pitchers in 2011. So after considering some of the past cases my rational side came up with three reasons not to worry (much) about a collapse:
- Rarity. Others at this site have been quoting probabilities, no doubt based on the sample of past seasons when a team is leading by so many games over their nearest rival, with so many games to go. The probability of a division title is over 90% and the probability of making the new six-team league playoff system is over 95%. These change slightly after each game is played.
- Injuries. A sharp reversal from winning a majority of games, say 60%, to suddenly losing 60% of games, a reasonable percentage to use that would be needed for a rival to have a chance to overcome a sizeable lead with 30 games left to play, does not happen without cause. In the Nationals case injury to multiple players would not do it, unless two starting pitches went down. The Nationals have already demonstrated that they could take and hold first place when several starting position players were injured. At present they have a significant lead so that particular reason does not worry me. The replacement players are quite capable. However, if the Nationals did lose two of their starting pitches then a collapse could happen.
- Overworked. It has been cited after some past teams collapsed and lost a sizeable lead that either their starting or relieve pitching staffs were overworked. I do not believe the pitchers on the Nationals are overworked. They use a five-man rotation and starting pitchers rarely stay in past 7 innings. Further the top three relieve pitchers pitch just one inning at a time and rarely pitch more than two days in a row. Also, tired position players can be rotated out without much drop in quality.
So yes, a collapse is possible, but I suggest that my fellow fans and I not devote much thought to the possibility. I will instead reiterate my prediction that the Nationals will clinch the divisional title with 7 or more games left to play.