It's not going to be easy for the Washington Nationals, who still have to pass two teams to sneak into a one-game playoff and make up 6.5 games after making up three in their last 10 games. But there's one thing this team has going for them and it was what kept fans optimistic up until this run actually started - this team has talent. It was just a matter of time before Bryce Harper was going to hit again, and with Jayson Werth leading the way, everyone else has been coming back to life. Playing the Marlins doesn't hurt, but the offense has finally turned a corner. Regression to the mean has never been so beautiful.
There are still 29 games left, which isn't a lot but there is a buzz around those in baseball starting to believe in this team again. And, the schedule is a real help as well. The three National League Central teams play each other several times before the end of the season which means that on those days the Nationals, at worst, cannot lose ground to all teams ahead of them and at best, are gaining on at least one. The Reds and Cardinals play a four game series between now and the end of the season. The Pirates and Reds play each other six times and Pirates and Cardinals also play each other six times. And Washington? They finish off their season with three games against the Cardinals and Diamondbacks. There is an opportunity for the Nationals here, but they have to take care of their games against division opponents for the rest of the season.
So, believe it or not, there is hope surrounding the Nationals once again. And, what has to date been a disappointing season, can be salvaged with one more good month and a little bit of luck.
The 2003 Expos followed their sweep of the Phillies by getting swept by the Marlins, who went on to win the World Series that year. The Nationals now face NL East teams for 23 games. Those games will determine whether the final six - against two teams currently ahead of them - will mean anything at all. The Nationals have had let downs in the past when they had been on a roll. Tonight, they face the Mets and vaunted thorn-in-their-side Dillon Gee. If there was ever a hump to get over, tonight may be it.
Lately in October, there is a team who makes the playoffs that no one saw coming. Last year, it was the Oakland Athletics who made an incredible late-season run. The year before that, both the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals came from way behind to catch and pass the teams they were chasing for the Wild Card in their respective leagues. The standings tell us that three NL Central teams are simply fighting for position. History tells us that things don't always end up as they seem.