A Season Lost — 18 games at a time
And now for the final 18-gamer. Why did I ever sign up for this gig? Well, I guess it’s because looking at the season in 18-game chunks provides some interesting perspective, and sometimes offers some surprises. This kind of retrospective is also useful since certain truisms tend to take over after a bad season that may or may not be actually true.
The Nats finished 9-9 in their last 18 games, perhaps fitting because they were essentially a .500 team this year. Remember, if you average 10-8 over the course of the season, you’re a 90-win team. That’s what the Mets did this year. The Nats average was 9-9, or 9.22-8.78 if you want to get technical. Over the last 54 games they were 27-27. Yes, they were a .500 team. Sigh.
Here’s the Nats overall record, broken into 18-game stretches:
Nats — 7-11, 12-6, 10-8, 10-8, 10-8, 7-11, 8-10, 10-8, 9-9.
So over the course of the season, they had one really good stretch, starting in late April. Not coincidentally, that stretch coincided with Bryce busting out, including his 6 HR/3 games performance that ended with his walkoff HR against the Braves on May 9.
Photoset: The Nats celebrate Bryce Harper’s walk-off home run – May 9, 2015 http://t.co/lsiv89UbF4
— FΛβιΛΠ (@SIRfabian) July 26, 2015
They had six mediocre to decent runs of 8-10, 9-9, and 10-8. And they had two bad stretches – their awful 7-11 start and – the killer—a 7-11 stretch that started, promisingly enough, with winning 2 of 3 from the Mets in DC at the end of July. But they went on to lose 3 of 4 to the Pirates at PNC Park.
— Bob Schiff (@Section222) July 24, 2015
Even worse, they got swept by the Mets in that key series in New York at the beginning of August. Then they could only split with the lowly D-backs, and would lose the first of the key three game series against the Rockies.
That last game was two days before the soul-crushing late inning CarGo grand slam that many have identified as the day the season fell apart. I would argue that that game was the culmination of the collapse — a confirmation of the Nats’ mediocrity that had been pretty clearly demonstrated over the preceding two weeks.
So how about the Mets? What does their season look like, broken into 18-game increments? And where did they stand in relation to the Nats after each stretch?
Mets – 14-4 (+7), 6-12 (+1), 9-9 (even), 7-11 (-3), 11-7 (-2), 11-7 (+2), 12-6 (+6), 13-5 (+9), 7-11 (+7).
Comparing the two teams’ seasons raises some interesting points. First, the Nats’ slow start really didn’t, in the end, sink the season. That’s a good caution for those who are ready to throw in the towel after the first 10 or 20 games of a season. The Mets cooled down quickly after their blazing start, and after the first third of the season, the race for the NL East was dead even – the division crown was there for the taking by whichever team stepped up in the remainder of the season. My 18-game post on NI after the first 54 games concluded:
“The Nats haven’t shown the kind of consistency we’d hope for, but 29-25 is by no means a disaster for the first third of the season of the season. In 2012, the Nats were 32-22 after 54 games. But in both 2013 and 2014, they were 27-27. So I think it’s fair to say that the season could go either way at this point.”
We now know which way it went – more like 2013 than 2014.
Second, the key, bad stretch for the Nats was also the exact point in the season where the Mets started to turn it on, going 11-7, 12-6, and 13-5 in their next 54 games. The infamous sweep in Citi Field set them up to take over the lead in the East for good. In fact, the last time the Nats led the division was prior to the nationally televised third game in New York on Sunday, August 2. With the ESPN crew cheering them on, Syndegaard outdueled JZnn that night and the Mets drew into a tie.
The next day, they beat the Marlins and we lost to the D-backs to fall behind by a game. The Curly-W flag at Nats Park would never again fly above the division this season.
Finally, even after that lousy 7-11 stretch, there still was hope since the Nats were only 2 games back in the East. But they needed to dig deep like the Mets did after reaching their lowpoint in the standings on July 5. You may recall that on that date, after another ESPN Sunday night game started by JZnn, the Nats had just completed a sweep of the Giants at Nats Park to get to 10 games over .500 for the first and only time all season.
The Mets, meanwhile, had lost 2 of 3 in LA, to fall 4.5 games back in the East, the most that they trailed us since the Nats took over the division lead on May 20 after beating the Yankees in the game where Bryce was tossed in the first inning. But the Mets then won 2 of 3 in S.F. and swept the D-backs. They then held serve in the division race until they could get the Nats back where they wanted them, at Citi Field in early August.
In contrast, when the Nats lost their division lead in early August after the Mets sweep, they sleepwalked for the rest of the season, going 29-30 from then on. Of course, by sweeping the Mets at home in September, the Nats could have pulled within one game, but instead the bullpen completely fell apart and they were swept. The season was over. In short, to employ an old cliché, when the going got tough, the tough got going – only this time it was the New York Mets who were tough and the Nats were not.
— Bob Schiff (@Section222) August 30, 2015