WASHINGTON — The Nationals take a day off Thursday. It’s one of three in the next 15 days, a rare run of breaks during the perpetual baseball schedule.
They are a season-high 10 games over .500 at 65-55 following a sweep of Cincinnati. This weekend, the situation intensifies when Milwaukee comes to Nationals Park for three games.
Here’s a look at the overall wild-card situation in the National League while the Nationals rest:
Washington. A game in front of the Chicago Cubs for the top wild-card spot. An 8-4 push in August continues a long recovery road which ran through June and July. Erick Fedde and Joe Ross are a combined 4-0 in the month. Max Scherzer is nearing a return. The Nationals have a plus-60 run differential, which is fifth-best in the league. Fivethirtyeight.com has vaulted the Nationals’ chances of making the postseason all the way up to 71 percent. Only two NL teams -- the Braves and Dodgers -- have better odds.
Chicago. Yes, the Cubs. They are back into the wild-card position -- barely -- and a game behind the Nationals. St. Louis is currently in first place in the jammed National League Central, just .001 percentage points ahead of the Cubs. What a gap if the season ended today. Instead of playing Atlanta in a division series, Chicago would have to travel to Washington for a one-game showdown against Scherzer. The Cubs were 14-15 in June, 12-11 in July and are 7-6 in August. That’s a long stretch of barely .500 baseball.
Milwaukee. The Brewers continue to hang around despite a -21 run differential, the 12th-best NL rotation by WAR, and seventh-best offense by WRC+. Like the Cubs, the last two-plus months have been defined by mediocrity. Milwaukee is a game under .500 in that span, and a huge run is coming. After three in Washington, the Brewers play three in St. Louis, three at home against Arizona, three at home against St. Louis, three in Chicago, two at home against Houston, then four versus Chicago. That’s a blistering task in front of the midwesterners.
Philadelphia. The Phillies hired Charlie Manuel as their new hitting coach this week. They also shut down Jake Arrieta for the year. Rhys Hoskins is the new leadoff hitter. Jean Segura is the new cleanup hitter. Somehow, the Phillies continue to lurk. They are four games over .500 and two games out of a wild-card spot. An interesting note: By WAR, Bryce Harper would be the Nationals’ third-best outfielder this season. Both Juan Soto (3.6) and Victor Robles (2.7) have carried more value than Harper (2.1). Adam Eaton (0.9) is the laggard. The Nationals outfield makes roughly $9.5 million combined this year. Philadelphia owes Harper $30 million for this season.
New York. The Mets were a shiny object last weekend when attempting to sweep the Nationals and continue a fervent run. Things have slowed this week. High-end hitter Jeff McNeil landed on the 10-day injured list. New York has lost three in a row -- all to division opponents -- to slide three games out of a wild-card spot. Some leveling was bound to occur thanks to the Mets’ poor defense and unreliable bullpen. Their bullpen is 13th in the NL by WAR. Their defense is ranked 14th by Fangraphs. A weekend series against Kansas City is coming before three consecutive huge home series against Cleveland, Atlanta and Chicago.
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