By Sam Bush
The Phillies can leave the Nationals in their dust this weekend at Citizens Bank Park.
Right now the Nationals aren’t very good. They look lost without Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon, and that goes for both sides of the ball.
It would help if the 2018 version of Juan Soto showed up, but that hasn’t happened yet. And that bullpen. Ugh. So yeah, the Nats need to turn things around, and fast. Doesn’t matter who the opponent is.
The thing about a division with four good, evenly matched teams is that you want to say, “Oh, well, it’ll be close all year, just gotta stay in it.”
But that’s probably not true.
More likely one team will, for reasons we can’t anticipate or deduce, jump eight games ahead of where it’s projected to be, and one will fall eight games behind where it’s supposed to be.
And the strength of the division will make it really hard for the team that falls back to claw its way into it again, since every week brings another series against a very good, highly motivated team. At this moment, the top four teams in the National League East are projected, by Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections, to win between 81 and 86 games. If the Nationals do get swept this weekend, though, they’ll be surprised how quickly the pack has moved on.
The Nats have a bit of history of underachieving. At the same time, Turner is still out and now Rendon is out and Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg won’t pitch in this series and it seems like this is what happens to the Nationals.
They win the division when it’s weak, like 2017 (the Marlins finished second) and 2016 (the Phillies and Braves were awful), but when faced with a little competition, like last season or 2015, stuff goes wrong. This is starting out as one of those “stuff goes wrong” seasons.