Race for a Red October: Nats have lost all margin for error

Brian Tinsman
September 16, 2019 - 11:15 am
Nationals have lost all margin for error in playoff hunt

Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

* This installment of Race For A Red October is presented by PVI Office Furniture

The Washington Nationals are going in the wrong direction at the worst possible time, thanks to the Atlanta Braves.

Last week, the Braves took three-of-four from the Nats, effectively ending their chances of winning the NL East. This week, Atlanta took two-of-three and nearly erased Washington's lead for the first Wild Card spot.

Washington is just 4-6 in its last 10 games and is only 1.5 games up on the Chicago Cubs and 2.5 games from being on the outside of the playoffs looking in. 

They have 14 games in the next 14 days and have to regain the mojo that carried them through August. The Nationals don’t look like a surging underdog that could make noise in the postseason. Fortunately, their next opponent, the Cardinals, are in the same boat, going just 5-5 of late.

Three games in St. Louis kicks off the Nats’ final road trip of the regular season, and they need to leave with momentum. Here’s how the Nationals can help their Race for a Red October against the Cardinals:

Playoff chances (via fivethirtyeight.com): 93 percent

Playoff clinching magic number: 12

National to watch: The aces have aligned in this series, with Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Max Scherzer all slated to start in St. Louis. Of the bunch, keep an eye on Scherzer, who is most in need of a dominant start, currently scheduled for Wednesday. It’s Scherzer who is likely to pitch a one-game series for the Wild Card, which makes his performance down the stretch the most intriguing.

Cardinal worth mentioning: Adam Wainwright has been one of the best pitchers of the 2000s, but his success vs. the Nats is noteworthy: 14 starts, a 9-4 record with a 3.34 ERA. He has been dominant since the All-Star break, sporting a 2.61 ERA in his last seven starts. Wainwright has allowed only one run in his last three starts and faces Scherzer on Wednesday.

By the numbers: The Nats’ aces are anything but wild this season. Strasburg kicked the injury bug and is top-five in the NL in wins and innings pitched. Offseason addition Corbin has been better-then-advertised and ranks in the top-five for total innings, strikeouts, and WAR.

Notable quote: “I’m going to be honest with you: The last thing I wanted to do was be a jackass.” Skipper Davey Martinez felt bad but explained to the media why it was important to ask the umpires if Brave Charlie Culberson, who got hit in the face by a Fernando Rodney fastball while offering at a bunt, had indeed broken the plane with his bat on the pitch. As a result, umpires gave Rodney a strike instead of a hit-by-pitch.

Series prediction: Both of these teams are being chased by the resurgent Cubs. The Nats are in desperate need of a series win against an NL team, something they haven’t had since Labor Day. The Cards are nursing a two-game lead over the Cubbies for the NL Central lead. This could be a defining series for both teams, but the Nationals will fall out of the playoffs if they lose. Look for the three aces to carry the Nats to a series win.

Brian Tinsman has covered D.C. sports since 2011, both from the team marketing and skeptical fan perspectives. Tweet your criticisms @Brian_Tinsman.