For the first time in the second half, the Washington Nationals showed some signs that they're ready to try and turn on the jets last week. They took two out of three from both the Rockies and Brewers, marking the first time that they've won consecutive series since June (June 19-June 28, three straight series wins over the Pirates, Braves, and Phillies). Unfortunately, the Nats have actually lost a game in the standings on the first place Mets since that series in Colorado began, as the Mets have won five out of six against the Orioles, Rockies, and Phillies.
In that six game stretch, the Mets pitchers allowed nine runs to the Rockies (twice!) and fell behind the Phillies 7-2 early on Monday. New York won all three of those games. As the Nats have now dug a 5.5 game hole, they're going to have to rely on the Mets opponents to help them out a little more if they hope to claw their way back into the race. Sadly, those teams aren't doing much to help the Nats out lately.
The paths that have led the Mets and Nats to where they are at this point in the season seem pretty clear....
The Mets have done a tremendous job of beating up on their weakest opponents, going 37-14 (.725) against the six NL teams with less than sixty wins so far this season (Braves, Marlins, Phillies, Brewers, Reds, Rockies). They've been merely adequate against the rest of the National League. The two current wildcard squads (Cubs and Pirates) swept the season series with the Mets, but they've played about .500 ball against everyone else.
The Nats, on the other hand, haven't done a very good job of beating up on the teams they're supposed to. Against those same six NL teams with less than sixty wins, they're 28-24 (.538). That's a 9.5 game difference between how the Mets and Nats have performed against the softer part of their schedule, which accounts for the current deficit and then some. The Nats have performed better than the Mets have against league average (or better) competition. Excluding the head to head matchups (7-6 Mets), the Nats have gone 10-13 against the NL teams that would currently make the playoffs (three games remaining in St. Louis next week), while the Mets have gone 7-20.
Unfortunately, given the information above, the schedule sets up terribly for the Nats if they're hoping for a Mets collapse. The Mets play just two teams that are currently over .500 the rest of the way.... the Nats (six times) and the Yankees (three). Apart from the Nats, here's who the Mets have remaining on the schedule.
- Philadelphia: 50-75, (9) - The Phillies jumped all over Jacob deGrom last night in the first few innings, taking a 7-2 lead. Sadly, their vaunted pitching staff allowed the Mets to counter with fourteen unanswered runs. The Mets are 9-1 against the Phillies so far this season and still face them nine more times... Yikes!
- Boston: 57-68, (3) - It's sad, but this is the Mets' best remaining opponent outside of the Nats and Yankees. The Red Sox have been playing a bit better lately, which might help some. They've won six of their past ten. They're unbeaten in their past three series (split a four game set with the Royals in that stretch) and won the first game of their current three game set with the White Sox. They do have an offense that could give the Mets fits, but the three game set will take place in Citi Field. This means they'll be without one of their top hitters (David Ortiz will probably play 1b in at least one of the games, I would think).
- Miami: 50-75, (6) - Particularly with Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton on the disabled list, the Marlins aren't inspiring fear in many opponents nowadays. They've lost four in a row (three to the Phillies!) and five out of six. As they play the Nats this weekend, we should be hoping that they stay cold for at least a few more days. The Mets are 9-4 against Miami so far this season.
- Atlanta: 54-71, (7) - The Braves have been ice cold lately (2-8 in their past ten), but don't play the Mets for another couple of weeks. Hopefully they've leveled out a bit by then (save for the four game set at Nats Park next weekend). Among the second division clubs remaining on the Mets' schedule, the Braves have given them the most trouble this season, going 6-6 in their first twelve meetings.
- Yankees: 69-55, (3) - The Yanks remain tied for first in the AL East and took two out of three from the Mets when they met in the Bronx earlier this year. Given the rest of the Mets schedule, the Nats are probably going to have to hope for the Yankees to at least win the rematch of that series in Citi Field.
- Cincinnati: 52-71, (4) - The Nats play against the Reds is, of course, one of the reasons that they're in their current mess. Cincinnati has won all five games they've played against the Nats this season (they have a rescheduled game remaining on September 29) despite being nineteen games below .500. The Mets swept the Reds in Citi Field earlier this season.
On the positive side, the Nats don't exactly play the most difficult schedule the rest of the way themselves. They do have a tough road series against the Cardinals next week and a three game set at home against the Orioles. Apart from those two teams and the Mets, every team that the Nats will face the rest of the way is below .500. They have ten games remaining against the Marlins, seven remaining against the Braves, and six against the Phillies. However, when you have to make up 5.5 games in the standings and the team above you also has an easy remaining schedule, it's difficult to make up much ground.
There are still 39 games remaining. The season's far from over. However, the Nats are in a hole. They've dug it themselves with a mediocre performance so far this season, but they're going to need to perform better and get help elsewhere if they hope to claw out of it. Let's hope they can.