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Can the Washington Nationals overcome this deficit?

After gaining two games in the standings the past two nights, the Washington Nationals find themselves 7.5 games back of the New York Mets with seventeen to play. The two teams will meet for a three game set in Citi Field to conclude the 2015 regular season. Is it possible that the Nats can make that series mean something?

After gaining a couple of games the past two days, the Nats are 7.5 back with 17 to play. Is there any hope?
After gaining a couple of games the past two days, the Nats are 7.5 back with 17 to play. Is there any hope?
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

After sweeping the Philadelphia Phillies to begin this week, the Washington Nationals trimmed a couple of games off of their deficit in the NL East. They'll now return home for their final homestand of the season down 7.5 games with just seventeen to play. With the Mets having lost two straight heading into their interleague subway series with the Yankees this weekend, is there any reason to believe that the Nats can make a run? Believe it or not, stranger things have happened.

Let's start by reminding you that the Nationals will conclude the regular season with a three game set in Citi Field against those Mets. They'll have a chance to control their own destiny provided that they can get within three games heading into the season's final weekend. To give themselves that chance, the Nats need to make up 4.5 games in the standings over the fourteen games leading up to that series. Can that be done? Well... We don't need to look back much farther than a week to see that it can. From September 7 through September 12, the Mets extended their lead over the Nats from 4 games to 9.5 games!

Since the current deficit is at 7.5 games, how about we look to see if we can find any similar swings in a seventeen game stretch. Again, we'll find two this season, as well as a third time this season where the Mets gained six games on the Nats in seventeen games (eight games in twenty). Let's have a look:

  • From opening day through April 24 (17 games), the Mets jumped out of the gate quickly, taking a six game lead. By April 27 (20 games), the Mets were up eight games over the Nats in the division.
  • That's when the Nats began the first 7.5 game swing in a seventeen game stretch. From April 28 through May 15 (games 21-37), the Nats went from trailing the Mets by eight games to trailing them by just a half a game. The Nats went 13-4 over that stretch.
  • Unfortunately, it happened again the other way. When the Nats headed to Citi Field on July 31 to play their 101st game of the season, they held a three game lead over the Mets. When they finished their 117th game of the season in San Francisco on August 16, the Nats found themselves 4.5 games back in the division.
  • To go into a little more detail on that final instance, the Mets suffered a three game sweep at the hands of the Pirates as the Nats were getting swept in San Francisco. In that stretch, the Mets actually gained 7.5 games on the Nats in fourteen games.

Yes. Swings like this require the help of both parties. While the Nats went 13-4 in their seventeen game stretch from late April through the middle of May, the Mets helped them out by going 5-11. When the Mets made up 7.5 games on the Nats in August, they went 11-5 while the Nats went 4-13, including a six game losing streak. When the Mets recently gained 5.5 games in six days, they were in the midst of an eight game winning streak while the Nats lost five in a row (including three... at home... all of which they had the lead in the sixth inning or later... to the Mets). In order for the Nats to try and make this historic comeback, the Mets are going to have to cooperate. Will they?

A quick glance at the Mets remaining schedule says that they don't exactly face the most impressive foes in the league. They'll host the Yankees for three games this weekend, so all of us in Nats Town should be pulling for the Yanks. They'll then face a Braves team that has really struggled lately, but has actually given the Mets their fair share of trouble this season (season series is 10-6 Mets). They'll then have a seven game road trip against Cincinnati (4) and the Phillies (3).

Looking at the schedule above, let's see how optimistic we can try and be without going full homer:

  • Yankees (3) - I don't think it's unrealistic to think that the Yanks could take two out of three. A sweep would be great, but let's reasonably hope for a Yankees series win.
  • Braves (3) - I'm going to say that the Braves get one in this series, despite the fact that the Mets just swept four games in Atlanta last weekend.
  • Reds (4) - Would it be too crazy to hope for a split? The Reds aren't a good baseball team, but they have beaten the Nats all five times that the two teams have played this season. The series is in The Great American Ballpark, so maybe the Reds can manage a split and help the Nats out some here.
  • Phillies (3) - It's in Philly. Maybe Aaron Nola makes a start here and knocks the Mets off?
By trying to think somewhat rationally here and having the Yanks win the series (1-2), the Braves and Phillies avoiding sweeps (4-2), and the Reds splitting a four game set (2-2), I'm putting the Mets at 7-6 over the next thirteen games. If the Mets go 7-6 over their next thirteen games, the Nats need to go 12-2 in order to give themselves a shot heading into Citi Field (literally... If the Mets go 7-6 [which, to be honest, is a feat that they should at least accomplish against that opposition], 12-2 would put the Nats three games back heading into the final weekend).

Can the Nats go 12-2? Let's be optimistic about this. Sure, they can. When the Nats host the Marlins on Thursday night, they'll begin an eleven game homestand. Over that homestand, they'll host the Marlins (4), Orioles (3), and Phillies (3). The final game will be a rescheduled game against the Cincinnati Reds. The best opponent that they'll face during this homestand (Baltimore) is 71-74 on the year. The Nats will then head to Atlanta to face a Braves team that they're 13-3 against this season before heading to New York for the final series of the season.

Again, let's try and look rationally........

  • Marlins (4) - Unfortunately, they'll face Jose Fernandez, but the Fish are a very beatable team... particularly without Giancarlo Stanton. Let's say 3-1, but a sweep isn't impossible.
  • Orioles (3) - The Nats took two out of three at OPACY earlier this season. The O's have recovered a bit so far in September after a horrific August (sound familiar?), but they don't have much to play for other than being spoilers at this point. They're 12 back in the division and while they're closer to the wildcard in the AL than the Nats are in the NL, they have four teams that they'd have to jump over to get there. Let's say 2-1 Nats.
  • Phillies (3) - They just swept the Phils in Philadelphia, so there's no reason to think that they can't do the same at home in Nats Park. 3-0 Nats.
  • Reds (1) - Boy... The Reds and Rockies have played a major role in determining the NL East so far. Who would have guessed? The Nats will finally win one against a (61-84!) team that they're 0-5 against this season.
  • Braves (3) - The season could be decided at this point, but if the Nats still have something to play for, this is a Braves team they've dominated all year.

There's a path to 12-2 for you. Take five out of seven from mediocre Orioles and Marlins squads that the Nats should do well against and thoroughly destroy the teams that the Nats should absolutely be punishing. It's not outside the realm of possibility. At this point, I don't think we can do any more than hope that the Nats take care of their own business and hope that the Mets opponents give them enough help to make that series in Citi Field mean something.