Today you can look at your Washington Nationals and call them the NL East Division Champions. Soak that in – it’s a great feeling. It may have happened earlier than most of us (including me) expected, but we all saw this coming. That doesn’t take away any of the joy this moment should give.
Neither should the fact that this is far from over. You should celebrate today, it is an historical event for DC baseball. And if they win it next year, you should celebrate then as well, because winning your division is something to cheer. But there is a long way to go to win a championship.
I am not sure if this team is the one that will do it – but what do I know, I certainly wasn’t predicting them winning their division. I expect if they win the NLDS the celebrations will actually be more muted than last night’s, because at that point they will still see two more series in front of them. But will they win the NLDS?
The best I can say is that they have a very good shot. The Nats certainly have their strengths – they have a deep starting rotation and strong bullpen (#1 in staff ERA), their lineup is very good (#5 in Runs per game), and they play great defense. But they have weaknesses as well – they can’t stop baserunners from stealing, they don’t get on base enough, and maybe their free swinging hitters won’t look so great facing really good teams’ top starters.
But the nature of playoffs series makes it a crapshoot. The Division Series, with only 5 games at most, is probably so luck dependent that I’d be surprised if the better team wins it more than 55% or 60% of the time. And even the 7 game series that follow don’t see the best team winning all the time. Take a look at the season schedule this year. The very best teams only win 60% of their games. This isn’t football or basketball.
The Nats are a very good team this year, and they may very well finish the season with the best record in baseball. They have their weakness, too, and may not match up perfectly against certain teams. But much of what’s ahead is up to the baseball gods. For the first time ever, they seem to be smiling on this team, so let’s hope they do that for another month.