One important number, run differential, says Washington is better than any NL team except the Dodgers. The Nationals were plus-120 in run differential before Wednesday’s games. The Dodgers were an absurd plus-226.
Washington’s record (78-59 entering Wednesday) is about what its run differential suggests it “should” be. The Braves are seven games better than they “should” be. I don’t believe the Nationals are evenly matched with the full-strength Braves, but they have a stronger case than before.
The Nationals always have been a threat because they have three top-flight starters: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. Before Wednesday’s games they ranked Nos. 1, 3 and 5 among NL pitchers in FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement. Even the Dodgers can’t match that.
Washington’s offense, sluggish for much of the season, has been very good since the All-Star break. Among NL teams, the Nationals rank tied for first with the Dodgers in Weighted Runs Created Plus since the break. The Braves rank fifth, a mark that likely would be better if not for all the injuries, but no longer can you say the Nats can’t hit.
Washington’s bullpen still isn’t great. It’s deeper since adding closer Daniel Hudson at the trade deadline. Another trade acquisition, Hunter Strickland, also has been effective. Those two plus Wander Suero and Sean Doolittle (just off the injured list) give manager Dave Martinez some solid bullpen pieces in a postseason series. There may not be many innings to cover with Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin ranked among the NL’s top eight for innings per game started.
The Nationals are not to be trifled with. It’s too late for them to catch the Braves in the East. But if Nationals and Cubs end up playing in the wild-card game, then I like the Braves’ chances better as the NL’s No. 2 seed against Central champion St. Louis.
Let the Dodgers deal with the Nationals or Cubs.