The Nationals Dimming Playoff Chances

It seems silly that a team sitting at 13-36 with a -68 runs differential can be talked about as having playoff chances, but technically, the Nationals do. Most simulations have the Nationals between 0.0 and 0.1% playoff odds. I’m with you if you’re willing to write the Nationals chances completely off right here and right now, but there’s always an outlier or two in history that suggests we shouldn’t be so declarative.

In this case, that outlier is the 2005 Houston Astros. On June 7th, the Astros sat 16 games behind first place, same as the Nationals. Their record was a revolting 21-35. The Astros would win four of their next five series, bringing their record on Jun 26th to 33-40. Little headway was gained despite the 12 of 17 run, as they remained 13 games back. On July 19th, the Astros crossed the .500 barrier for the first time in ages, putting themselves at 47-46, 13 games back. They would go on to reach win 50 before losing another game. On July 31st the division leading Cardinals were 9.5 ahead after a Mets victory, but still the Astros were 57-48 and on a ridiculous tear.

The Astros were helped by hot streaks like Lance Berkman. Entering June 7th, Berkman’s OPS sat below .730, and would dip below .700 days later, during the stretch Berkman hit .341/.447/.582 in a little over 215 plate appearances. Roy Oswalt would make 11 starts, allowing 16 earned runs and nine walks in 82.3 innings. Roger Clemens would top Oswalt by going 61 innings in nine starts, allowing only eight earned runs and 20 walks.

On September 1st, the Astros were 70-62, 14 out of first place, but in the thick of the Wild Card hunt. Four weeks later the Astros would finish with 89 wins, one more than the Philadelphia Phillies, allowing the improbable to occur. The 2005 Houston Astros had somehow made the playoffs.

Outliers like that don’t occur often, despite the 2004/2005 Astros and 2002 A’s run to the playoffs, but they do happen. It seems highly, highly unlikely that the Nationals will even sniff .500, far from a playoff spot. The Nationals lack a Roy Oswalt or a Roger Clemens or even an Andy Pettitte. They may add Stephen Strasburg at some point, but unless he’s cloned a dozen times, it probably won’t be enough.

I know I said that we shouldn’t be declarative, but the Nationals have about as much chance of making the playoffs this season as Dave Cameron revealing himself as Bill Bavasi. Although, I must say, the idea of a sinking ship somehow winning a cross-Atlantic boat race after enduring massive damage in the first leg sure does make for a good underdog story.

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If I did it right, their Pythagorean w/l is 19-30, which is better but still the worst in baseball.