The Washington Nationals seem to be limping towards the post season. With their first ever playoff spot locked up the Nationals have not played at the pace which put them atop the NL East going into September.
The Nationals September record stands at 16-12 for a .577 winning percentage. This is their worst since May. Since completing a three game sweep of the New York Mets on September 12, Washington has gone 7-9. This has included a three game sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Braves and losing two out of three to the St. Louis Cardinals each on the road.
Since earning a berth in the playoffs with a victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 20 the Nationals are 5-5. The team split a four game series with the Milwaukee Brewers, won two out of three from the Philadelphia Phillies and lost the St. Louis series. On Friday night the Nationals suffered their most lopsided loss of the season to the Cardinals, 12-2. On Sunday the Cardinals defeated them 10-4.
Washington’s September record has put them in peril of losing the NL East. With three games to go they lead the Braves by three. On September 12 the lead was 8 1/2. After the sweep by the Braves it dropped to 5 1/2. The lead has gotten as low as two, but Washington has been able to stave off Atlanta.
Why has Washington struggled in September?
It is probably the combination of their play and the competition. The Nationals have not gotten good pitching from Ross Detwiler and Edwin Jackson in their last outings. The bullpen has struggled. Even the team’s defense has made uncharacteristic mistakes.
Washington has had to play Atlanta and St. Louis teams battling it out for the playoffs. When the Nationals went to Atlanta the Braves still had an outside chance to win the division. They knew a sweep would put them within striking distance. Atlanta knew that no lead was safe after blowing an 8 1/2 lead with 18 to go in 2011 and losing a wildcard spot to St. Louis.
Milwaukee was still in the hunt for a wildcard when they came to Washington while the Nationals had just clinched. Though the two teams split losing did not benefit the Nationals.
The results in St. Louis could almost be expected. The Nationals have only won one series there since the Cardinals moved to new Bush Stadium in 2006. Washington’s record in St. Louis is 6-16.
The fact is Washington has cooled off since Labor Day. They will need to pick it up in the post season. There the Nationals will probably face either Atlanta or St. Louis in the divisional playoff with the first two at their opponent’s park. Losing those games to either team could be a hole Washington may not be able to climb out of.
The Nationals are not playing their best baseball in September.
Fortunately Washington already has a place at the table in October where they can get back on track.