Pump Your Brakes, Nats Fans

It’s easy to see why Natitude ignition is all the rage these days. After seven years of futility, especially the rock bottom years of 2006-10, the first-place Nats have the NL’s best record, 4.5 games ahead of Atlanta in the division.

It’s only July 24th, but my favorite Nats blog is writing things like, “Likely scenarios are all pointing to the Nats as NL East Champs.” That’s probably true, but here’s a recent history lesson as to why things may not work out that way.

Over the past five years, seven teams with three-games-or-more division leads on July 24th blew it by season’s end. They are:

— The ’11 Giants held a four-game lead, lost the NL West by eight.
— The ’11 Red Sox held a three-game lead, lost AL East by seven.
— The ’10 Yankees held a three-game lead, lost the AL East by one.
— The ’10 Braves held a six-game lead, lost the NL East by six.
— The ’10 Padres held a three-game lead, lost the NL West by two.
— The ’07 Mets held a three-game lead, lost the NL East by three.
— The ’07 Brewers held a three-game lead, lost the NL Central by two.

You may be thinking, “Five years is a long time; seven ain’t bad.” Well, maybe, but during that same time span only eight teams were able to protect divisional leads of three games or more (the ’11 Rangers and Phillies, the ’10 Rangers, the ’09 Angels, Dodgers and Phillies, the ’08 Angels and the ’07 Red Sox). Meaning, by this convoluted metric, Washington is almost as likely to lose the NL East as it is to win it.

So, yeah, hopefully you’re scared straight for these final two-plus months of the season. Buckle up, Nats fans.

Update: I should add Baseball Prospectus’ odds here. They have the Nats at a 71-percent chance of winning the NL East and 17-percent chance at the Wild Card. That’s a combined 88-percent chance of making the playoffs. Pray for the division, though.

8 thoughts on “Pump Your Brakes, Nats Fans”

  1. Wait so if two teams had 10 game leads on July 24th in the past 5 years and one went into epic collapse then you’d give a 10 game leading Nats a 50% chance of losing the East? I don’t think it works like that.

    What I see above is one time in the past 5 years did a team have a lead as large as the Nats do now 4.5) and manage not to win their division and that’s because 2010 Philly (a team that won 93 games the year before and would win 102 the year after) finished the season on a 24-7 run.

    I’m not saying it can’t happen, but rather than a 50/50 thing, it’s more like a once every 5 years thing.

  2. Harper Gordek FTW

    Maybe just bc I think it’s so hard to go wire to wire in first, but I think the Nats end up with the Wild Card. Winning the division would be awesome, but being in the playoffs is what matters.

  3. Good point, Harper. I said the metric was convoluted, and it is, though I will also say that of these seven teams six of them lost more than 4.5 games of ground from July 24 on.

    Good catch, Max. Fixed.

  4. _Winning the division would be awesome, but being in the playoffs is what matters._

    But remember, the two WC teams have a one-game play-in game just to make it to the division series. So while the loser of that game is technically a playoff team, it’s certainly not going to feel like an accomplishment.

    The Nats are in a position to win the division. And because the WC’s path is now a coin flip — not to mention being at a disadvantage in terms of setting up their rotation for the division series — they have to do EVERYTHING they can to beat out Atlanta.

  5. I would like to see how many of these teams had a top-3 team ERA on July 24th… The way the Nats have been winning ballgames (through solid pitching rather than hitting) is a trustworthy method of success (“Defense wins championships”, right?). I am not worried about them making the playoffs, and i believe their success vs. the NL East will determine whether or not they will take the division crown.

  6. How about a 5-game lead on July 26th?

    Based on the numbers you showed, it looks like a much better recent historical trend.

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