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July 9, 2011 / Nat Anacostia

There’s no standing still in baseball

On June 22, the Nats reached .500. The next morning I  posted an item on their odds of reaching the playoffs.* According to coolstandings.com, their odds of reaching the playoffs then stood at 18.5%.

* With a bigger story breaking later that day, it’s not surprising that my post didn’t get much attention.

Since then, the team has maintained its .500 pace, going 8–8. One might think that their playoff odds should be about the same. In fact, according to the same site, they’ve plummeted to 5.3%.

It’s not hard to see what happened. The morning of June 23, Washington was 37–37, five games behind Atlanta (43–33) in the wild-card race. Since then, the Nats continued to play .500 ball, while the Braves have gone 10–4, with their lead over the Nats in the wild-card race widening to eight games.

Looking ahead, if the Braves were to cool off, the Nats would still have to hope that none of the other teams that are currently ahead of them (the D’backs, Pirates, Cardinals and Mets) get hot in their place. Over the last three seasons, the NL wild-card winner has averaged 91 wins. For the Nats, reaching that target would require them to go 46–26 the rest of the way—not impossible, but obviously very unlikely.

For a team that’s behind in a wild-card race, staying in the race doesn’t mean staying the same, it means getting a lot better. Staying the same means falling further behind.

What’s true for a pennant race is even more true for the more important, longer run race that the Nationals are engaged in—the race to become a truly competitive franchise in the National League East. The Nationals have some great prospects, but so do the Phillies and, especially, the Braves. Improving the franchise means continuing to sign and develop great prospects, making good trades, and making smart decisions about signing free agents.

As we approach the trading season, it’s important that Mike Rizzo and company not be distracted by the small chance of a wild-card run this season. They instead should be focused on the more important goal of making this a truly competitive franchise within the next two or three years. Where worthwhile value can be obtained in return, we should be trading the players who aren’t necessarily part of that future, players like Jason Marquis, Laynce Nix, and Sean Burnett. We want to build a team that can not only be competitive, but can sustain that status for multiple seasons. That requires adding good prospects. While our farm system has improved, it’s not yet an elite one.

In my next post, I’ll share some thoughts about my vision for the team’s future.

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