Race for a Red October: Playoffs start now for Nats

Brian Tinsman
August 16, 2019 - 11:00 am

After one of the worst starts in franchise history, the Washington Nationals are finally in high gear, entering the middle of August in sole possession of the first Wild Card spot in the National League.

Winners of four-straight, the Nats wrap up a defining homestand with a critical series vs. the Milwaukee Brewers, who sit just one game back in the race for the second Wild Card spot.

Sweep the three-game series, and the Nationals could pull within three games (or fewer) of the division-leading Atlanta Braves. Get swept by the Brewers, and the Nats could find themselves back on the outside of the playoff picture, looking in with just 39 games to play.

Here’s a look at the stats that matter, and how the Nats can help in the hunt for red October:

Playoff chances (via fivethirtyeight.com): 73 percent.

Playoff clinching magic number: 42.

Nationals player to watch: After throwing two innings in a simulated game this week, Max Scherzer feels good—good enough to return to the mound this weekend. It’s unclear what day he might return or how long he’ll be able to pitch, but you better believe Mad Max will be ready.

Brewer to beware of: Outfielder Christian Yelich is back from injury and continues leading the league in five offensive categories, slugging a line of .329/.420/.690. He knows the Nats well and has pounded them over the course of his career, batting .301/.401/.480 in 81 career games, many of those with the Marlins.

Weird stats: Washington is 46-24 in the last 70 games. Perhaps more impressively, they have been ahead of tied after the sixth inning in 46 of the last 50 games. If not for an inconsistent bullpen, the Nationals could have put the division away by now.

Notable quote: “I want to pitch in the big leagues. I think I’m ready to pitch in the big leagues.” After throwing a simulated game and waking up without pain, the logical next step for Scherzer is a minor league rehab assignment. He has made it clear he does not agree, insisting he could start now.

Series prediction: The Nats have no choice but to stay red hot and batter the Brewers at home this weekend. If they don’t, they risk falling as far back as fourth in the Wild Card standings. The Brewers have a lot to play for, but run into tough pitching matchup in Patrick Corbin and what is likely to be two of the trio of Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Erick Fedde. Even if Scherzer has to wait, they have enough pitching to take two games in this series.

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