3 Reasons the Nationals Can Still Play Spoiler Down the Stretch
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The Washington Nationals probably won't make the 2013 MLB Playoffs.
They are currently 62-64, 15 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East standings, and 9.5 games behind the Cincinnati Reds for the second and final spot in the NL Wild Card standings. Not exactly where the Nats thought they would be at this point in the 2013 season.
Hey, at least they can play spoiler.
The Nats still have to play the remaining 36 games on their regular season schedule. Perhaps a team-wide case of schadenfreude would be the only way to find meaning in this sorely disappointing campaign.
Here now are three reasons the Washington Nationals can still play spoiler.
Note: All statistics updated through August 21 courtesy of MLB.com unless noted otherwise.
3. Perfect Pitch
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Yes, the 2013 Nationals have struggled on offense, ranking 11th in the National League in batting average at .246, and 12th in runs scored with 482. They have also struggled on defense, committing 86 errors, fifth-most in the NL.
But the Nats have not struggled from the mound this season.
Washington's starting pitchers rank ninth in the NL in starter ERA. In particular, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann give the Nats the three-headed monster that is perfect for dominating a short series—even if it's in the regular season.
Strasburg is currently 6-9 with a 2.93 ERA and 154 strikeouts, Gonzales is 7-6 with a 3.38 ERA and 155 strikeouts and Zimmermann has a 14-7 record while compiling a 3.37 ERA and striking out 121. All three pitchers rank in the top 25 in the NL in both ERA and strikeouts.
The Nationals' pitching may not be enough to get them into the playoffs, but it should be enough to keep other teams out.
2. Werth Noting
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The Nationals offense as a whole may be struggling this season, but Jayson Werth most certainly is not.
Werth is batting .330 in 336 at-bats through 95 games played. The Nats' right fielder has 18 home runs, 56 RBI and 63 runs scored, with a .408 on-base percentage and a .530 slugging percentage. Werth is currently tied for the Nationals' team lead in home runs, tied for third in RBI and leads in runs scored.
Due to an earlier injury, the 34-year-old has only 385 plate appearances, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Werth needs 3.1 plate appearances per team game played to qualify for the batting title. At this point in the Nationals' season, that equates to 390.6 plate appearances, which means he should qualify by the weekend. Werth, who has never won a batting title, would instantly jump into the top three in the NL in batting average.
But even if he doesn't win the batting title, Werth can still carry the Nationals—just as he has since the All-Star Break.
In that span, Werth is leading the National League with a .404 batting average and a 1.173 OPS (minimum 100 at-bats), while also ranking second in home runs with eight and being tied for fourth in RBI with 23. Opponents of the Nationals down the stretch better pray to the Baseball Gods that Jayson Werth goes cold for three or four games.
1. Opportunistic Schedule
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Thanks to the schedule makers, the Nationals will have the chance to disrupt the playoff aspirations of four different MLB teams, covering four divisions in both the NL and the AL.
Take a look at the four series in question, with an emphasis on each opponent's realistic postseason goals, in order of priority:
|SERIES DATES||OPPONENT||RECORD||DIVISION||RANK||REALISTIC GOAL(S)|
|August 23-25||Kansas City Royals||64-61||AL Central||3rd||Wild Card, Division Title|
|September 16-18||Atlanta Braves||77-49||NL East||1st||Best Record|
|September 23-25||St. Louis Cardinals||73-53||NL Central||2nd||Division Title|
|September 27-29||Arizona Diamondbacks||65-60||NL West||2nd||Wild Card, Division Title|
If the Nats want to play spoiler, they can take their pick of victims.