It’s not 19-31 — and 27-31 is better!

There is parity in the middle of the National League, and that has kept the Washington Nationals in close proximity of the Wild Card and within 1.0 game at this moment. The season is 35 percent complete. A long way to go in this season, and the Nats have the seventh easiest remaining schedule facing a .492 winning percentage based on the moment.

The calendar turned to June just a day ago. You can really only count out two teams in the NL with the Rockies and Marlins. The Padres made an early May trade for Luis Arraez with those Marlins. You rarely would see a trade like that so early in the season. It thrust the Padres up the standings, and they are one of only five team in the NL with a winning record.

The playoff chances are improbable for the Nats as a team finishing up their rebuild and in more of a transitional state. On Friday morning, Baseball Reference (BBRef) had the Nats at 8.3 percent odds of making the playoffs, and that dropped last night to 5.5 percent after two consecutive losses. On May 23, 2019, the Nats playoff odds at 19-31 were .01 percent. So you’re saying there’s a chance. Sure. The Nats are 27-31 today and BBRef raised the Nats to 8.0 today.

Maybe general manager Mike Rizzo decided to show his team he really cares, and they responded with a win today after he demoted catcher Riley Adams to Triple-A, and brought Drew Millas back up. The Nats record of only winning 4-games this season in one-run games in 13 tries, shows you the value of just one run. Adams was in a deep offensive slump, and his blocking of balls in the dirt was not good. Yesterday, Adams allowed a runner to score from second base on a wild pitch. The team lost by one run.

The thing is that the team has been getting great starting pitching from Trevor Williams, MacKenzie Gore, Jake Irvin, and Mitchell Parker. The back of the bullpen with Dylan Floro, Hunter Harvey, and Kyle Finnegan has been fantastic. If you picked your 12 playoff teams based on team ERA, the Nats would be in that Top-12 and just 3 points from the Top-10. The team’s 3.85 pitching staff ERA is mind-blowing given how bad it was at the first week of the season, and even when we looked in at the end of April, the starters were chipping away at a 5.09 ERA. It has taken time, and today, the starter’s ERA is 13th best in MLB at 3.91.

The problem here is mostly about the offense. The team is the 6th worst in runs scored per game. Much of that has been helped by the 94 stolen bases which is the best in the Majors, yet hurt by the demoralizing 23 outs on the bases (mostly TOOTBLANS) plus the addition of the 14 pick-offs, both which are the worst in the Majors. And it goes back to that this team has to be aggressively smart and coached better on running the bases. Add the 12 caught-stealing plays that did not involve pick-offs, and the Nats have eliminated 49 of their own baserunners.

In total, the team has 243 runs allowed and 230 scored. That is a -13 run differential. That is just .22 runs per game in differential, and if you look at the .84 runners eliminated off of the basepaths you start to see that the team has lost games by bad baserunning. Of course some pickoffs will happen, and caught-stealing is also going to happen — but think about that this team is 22nd in OBP (on-base percentage) and you can see that you have to get on-base and not be eliminated when you get there.

If you believe in WAR, you start to see those weak links in the chain. Each link must be tested for their tensile strength. WAR is cumulative so players with more innings and more games are not the same as those who have not played as much. Also trend analysis is important. Keibert Ruiz is a +0.3 in the past two weeks (since May 19) in WAR. So while Ruiz is the worst on the team in cumulative WAR, he is on an upward trend.

The team DFA’d Victor Robles in order to keep Eddie Rosario. But how much longer can Rizzo and manager Dave Martinez write Rosario into the lineup? The last time we talked about a Rosario DFA he went on a smoking hot streak in his 14-games from May 4 – May 20. But his overall numbers are poor, and if you remove that hot streak, he is batting just .106 with two homers for the rest of the season. He isn’t a great baserunner or defensive player. In right field, he is well below average. You would hope that when James Wood is ready to return from the minor league 7-day IL and proves ready for a promotion, that Wood could replace Rosario.

What is going on with Tanner Rainey? He hasn’t pitched since May 21, and has only pitched in 13 innings this year. That is it. It’s as if the team has a 7-man bullpen. Why wouldn’t you replace Rainey by someone who deserves a chance from the minor leagues? Or is the team going to wait for Cade Cavalli or Josiah Gray to make their way into this rotation? First off, let both of them prove that they belong. Gray’s ERA was 14.04 when he departed for the 15-day IL. Cavalli has one game in MLB back in 2022 before his injury and his ERA was 14.54. Nothing should be a given — so why not just call up your best reliever in the minor leagues?

Whether you believe you are a Wild Card team or not, you should still look to improve. The 27-31 record is much better than 19-31, and maybe there are beautiful places ahead to see.

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