The Nats are playoff bound, right? Can we all agree that's the most likely scenario from where the Nats are right now? This is a team who's pitching has carried them to a record 15 games over .500 for the first "half" of the year. Even if you believe they got lucky, and their pitching can't stay this hot, and Jayson Werth is a pox on their house and will destroy the team from the inside out, how bad a team would that actually make them? 10 games over? 5 games over?
We go over this alot because it's fun to do. The commenters went over it in the last post. If they Nats simply go .500 the rest of the year - they will have a good shot at making the playoffs. Two or three games over .500? That's 88-90 wins. That's almost a lock, historically.
If the Nats play the last 79 games at a significantly worse pace than the first 83 they will still make the playoffs.
No, in order to miss the playoffs it can't just be some regression to means, or a piece of bad luck here or there. It would take some combination of bad events to would bring this team under .500 for the 2nd half. Could it happen? I doubt it, but since each win makes the "what if they don't make it" more and more unlikely, we might as well get it out of our systems now. Here's how I see the Nats missing the playoffs.
Strasburg, Gio, or ZNN go down with an injury early and Edwin Jackson loses steam.
A starter injury is unlike any other injury because you are replacing
the injured not with the next best guy but the 6th best guy. The drop off is going to be huge. The reason Lannan wasn't traded for a bag of balls was because the Nats don't have much depth at starting pitching. He takes over and does what Lannan does, which is fine but it's not what any of those three do. Any pitcher could pitch worse but given his history Edwin is the most likely to flame out (not likely, just the most likely out of these guys). That would leave the Nats with a rather typical staff of two great pitchers, one decent 3rd and a 4th and a 5th that are ok. It's not a bad staff, probably still just better than average, but this team was carried by a dominating staff.
The back of the pen has an extended bad stretch.
Guys go through bad stretches. It happens. But because relief pitchers pitch so few innings though, you can manage to get through a season without seeing a significant one. That's what's happened so far. On the flip side you can have good pitchers look bad for a month. (See Sean Burnett early last year). If the Nats have the misfortune of having a couple guys hit bad months in the 2nd half obviously the pen will suffer. I have trouble thinking it gets worse than good, given the amount of talented arms, but if say Clippard and Burnett both go cold at the same time that could cost the Nats a few games as they re-align the pen.
OK so the pitching takes a bunch of hits... and it's still ok. I can't see this becoming a bad staff barring a major injury run of 4 arms or so. But with the pitching only slightly above average the hitting needs to pick up its game. It had looked like it's heading toward average and that itself might be enough even if the above happens so we need another thing to go against the Nats.
Nothing goes right. Espinosa and the catcher spot remain holes. Desmond cools down. None of Morse, Zimm, LaRoche, or Bryce step up. Werth is more like last year than early this year.
Nothing in particular about the above is particularly crazy to think could happen. Hell, I'd say there are good reasons to bet on each individual performance to go that way (except maybe Werth), but the thing is they shouldn't ALL go this way. When you are talking about a mix of 8 players some should perform better, some as expected, some worse. Maybe Danny gets hot, maybe Ian is truly the next slugging star, maybe Morse hits like last year. Something good should happen for the Nats. In the above no one is performing better. Nothing is going right.
This isn't an impossibility, like saying "everybody had terrible second halfs" would be. That "everything goes wrong" is something that just can't happen over the course of 80 games. 20 maybe, but not 80. But the "nothing goes right" isn't as strong a statement because it includes players putting up numbers that are fair to expect. Look at the pitching staff. Almost nothing went wrong in the first half *
No deals are made to help out
Even if all the above happens there are names of guys out there that could help out in the scenarios above. Greinke or Garza, maybe Upton could inject some life into the offense if it remains down. But the front office is reluctant to deal because any big one would leave the minors pretty bare. So Rizzo sits and does nothing, damns the team's second half luck and waits to 2013 just as he had been doing before the season.
So now you have a good but not great pitching staff, and a offense that remains below average. That combinations puts the team as a below .500 team. Not terrible mind you but say 37-42 the rest of the year and that's enough to keep them out of the playoffs. All it takes is the pitching staff to suffer a major injury, key guys underperforming in the bullpen, nothing to go right for the offense, and no help coming from the front office. Like I said, we shouldn't have much more time to come up with plausible playoff miss scenarios so enjoy this one pessimists.
*Looking back I did say "everything went right" with the pitching staff. That's an overstatement. I mean it did go right, but only because Strasburg, ZNN, Clippard pitching as expected is good enough to be thought of as "right". But everyone isn't outperforming expectations. "Nothing went wrong" is a better way of putting it.