The Nats are emerging from the soft underbelly of their schedule to find themselves staring at what might be the hardest two weeks of the season for them. It will almost certainly be the most consequential.
They had the luxury of going in to the All Star Break by playing the Marlins, Tigers, and Royals over 12 games. There is only one team in MLB with a worse record than those three, but the Nats took care of business, going 10-2 against them. And this was after taking care of business in all of June, emerging from the cellar of the league to postseason position. They had the third worst record in the NL at the end of May, and right now they have the fourth best, and the top Wild Card spot.
But that is a precarious position for sure, and the upcoming schedule will tell us as much as June did, if not more, about what to expect the rest of the way. They face Baltimore for a two game set, the only team worse than those 3 they played before the break, and while you’d like a sweep, that’s not the way baseball necessarily works. Win 1, preferably 2, and move on to the real challenge.
They’ll go to Atlanta for a 4 game series, before returning home to play Colorado, a team that’s faded somewhat recently, but is still in the thick of the Wild Card race. Then they get the Dodgers, the best team in baseball, before another 3-game series against the Braves. No off days in that stretch, by the way.
If June and the 12-game set against the bottom of the league pulled them back into contention, the next two weeks determines whether they belong there. They don’t need to dominate this, they can probably go 8-8 and be pretty content that they belong, assuming those 8 losses aren’t mostly against Atlanta.
I’ve always been a big fan of looking at how well a team is doing by how they play in a series. If they split each of their next three series – Baltimore (2 games), Atlanta (4) and Colorado (4), they’ll be in good shape. Win one of the two next series, and that will get them to .500, and in real contention. If they do any better, they’ll probably be in a pretty strong position with that Wild Card spot, if not the NL East race itself.
If they do worse than that, well, as exciting as June was, they might be fading from the WC race. The timing works out, because they’ll really be able to assess just how in it they are just at the trade deadline.
Now, I’m not gonna get carried away. If they go 6-10, they’re not eliminated from contention, and a strong August could put them back into the top WC spot. But if they go 6-10, my faith in their ability to get to that spot, or get any further, will be pretty shaken. I want to watch this team in a real honest-to-goodness playoff race, and we’re about to find out if that’s gonna happen. The next two weeks should be really exciting for this team, and will determine whether the next two months are going to be as well.