Race for a Red October: Nats shift focus to the Wild Card

Brian Tinsman
September 10, 2019 - 6:27 pm
Race for a Red October: Nats shift focus to the Wild Card

Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

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

It was always a long-shot for the Washington Nationals to compete for the NL East crown, even after a blistering August.

Blame it on the Nats' 19-31 start. Blame it on the Atlanta Braves' 20-5 run over the last month, at a time when the second-place Nats needed to close the gap. 

Blame it on a disastrous weekend series in Atlanta when the Nats needed to improve on their head-to-head schedule. Wherever you point the blame, know that the damage is probably done.

With 20 games to go, the Nats trail by 9.5 games. While not impossible, the more likely route to the playoffs rests in the Wild Card, where the Nats still lead the top spot by 2.5 games.

Unfortunately, the tough road continues as they take on the Minnesota Twins this week. The Twins are 88-55 this season but have the strange anomaly of being better on the road than at home.

The Nats kick off a three-game series in Minnesota on Tuesday night. Here's how they can help their Race for a Red October against the Twins:

Playoff chances (via fivethirtyeight.com): 93 percent

Playoff clinching magic number: 16

National to watch: Patrick Corbin is every bit the ace that Mike Rizzo envisioned when signing him last offseason. Over his last 15 starts, he has a 2.29 ERA with 116 strikeouts and 31 walks in 94 1/3 innings. He has never faced the Twins, but will take the bump on Thursday with what could be a chance to take the rubber game or complete the sweep.

Twin worth mentioning: As a team, the Twins are plus-168 in run differential this season, just plus-six runs short of tying the franchise record. Veteran slugger Nelson Cruz has been a boost to the team's offense and could provide some fireworks in this series. He has four career home runs vs. Anibal Sanchez – the Nats' probable starter for Tuesday – in just 15 career at-bats. That's the best rate of home runs against any pitcher he has faced.

By the numbers: Since August 10, the Twins and Nats are tied for the fourth-best record in baseball (18-9). It's worth noting that both teams peaked early in that stat, with the Nats nursing a 5-5 record in their last 10 games (including two losing series), and the Twins are not much better at 6-4.

Notable quote: "We just feel a little bit down. But we still have a chance...we've got to keep it going." Juan Soto summed up the team's last week succinctly. Facing a tough stretch of teams over .500, the Nats have proven to be not quite the juggernaut that they appeared to be vs. sub.-500 teams in August.

Series prediction: The Nats are still 2.5 games up in the Wild Card race, and 4.5 games ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers for the second spot. The Twins are a bona fide playoff team, and a good opportunity to gauge the Nats' collective confidence after a tough stretch. With another tough series against the Braves this weekend, look for the Nats to grind out a series win in Minnesota.

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