At the start of play on May 24, the Washington Nationals were a season-worst 12 games under .500 and 10 games out in the NL East. Given the disappointments of 2018, manager Davey Martinez figured to be on the hottest of seats. Since then, however, the Nationals have been lava-hot — an MLB-best 26-10 over that span, which includes a 21-8 mark since June 1.
To put a finer point on it, the Nationals entered the Fourth of July slate with a hefty 65 percent chance of making the postseason and better than a one-in-four chance of hawking down the Braves in the NL East — all according to the SportsLine Projection Model (@SportsLine on Twitter). Throw in Thursday’s sweep-clinching win over the Marlins (Anibal Sanchez lowered his season ERA to 3.66 with six strong innings), and those playoff odds are looking even better.
This is mostly how things were supposed to be. Yes, the Nats last season went a middling 82-80, but they were expected to be a strong bounce-back team this year even before adding the likes of Patrick Corbin, Brian Dozier, and Yan Gomes to the fold. Max Scherzer is still at his peak, Anthony Rendon is looking worthy of down-ballot MVP support, and Juan Soto hasn’t missed a beat.
Taking the long view, the Nationals’ roster strength suggests they should be better than four games over .500 and at the moment tied with the Phillies in the standings. That’s a sensible notion, but given the depths they reached earlier in 2019, it’s a minor miracle they find themselves on such solid ground as we approach the All-Star break. This timely surge also makes it more likely that GM Mike Rizzo will look to improve the bullpen as the July 31 trade deadline winds its way toward us. Roughly a month ago, he may have been pondering being a seller.
Looking forward, the Nationals are unlikely to catch the Braves. That’s the nature of a 5.5-game deficit with more than half the season in the books. However, the Nats are now tied for wild-card position, and going forward they’ll play a somewhat easier schedule than the rest of their wild-card competitors. After their miserable start to 2019, even making the playoffs via the wild card would be a notable feat. As for the Nats’ grim history of postseason outcomes, even getting a shot to flip that script in 2019 would be a defiance of the odds they stacked against themselves.