With time gradually running out in the 2018 Major League Baseball season, the Washington Nationals will carry a sense of urgency into Sunday night’s nationally televised game with the Chicago Cubs on ESPN.
They’ll also carry a curse in close games that’s long overdue to correct.
Washington has the worst record in one-run games of any 2018 playoff contender. Winning or losing nail biters isn’t completely a matter of luck. But there’s more luck involved in these than in blowouts. What typically separates good teams from bad teams is the ability to win blowouts, particularly over larger sample sizes.
Washington has some separation from its competitors for the NL East crown right now if you throw out one-run games. Check out these records entering current series…
NL East Excluding One-Run Games
Washington 48-38 (.558)
Philadelphia 44-39 (.530)
Atlanta 47-42 (.528)
That category has historically been a very good indicator stat for quality in this sport. Washington is still a “playoff caliber” team even if current overall standings suggest otherwise.
The Nationals entered the Chicago series with a horrible 11-18 record in one-run games. Had they just split them out, they’d be in a virtual dead heat with the Phils and Braves. If all three had “normal” performances reflective of talent level suggested by blowouts, Washington would be the frontrunner to win the division.
The Nationals added another one-run loss on Friday, falling 3-2 to the Cubs.
Important market influences understand this reality. That’s why Washington still gets so much respect in futures prices (relative to the rest of the division), and on a daily basis in game money lines (particularly when Max Scherzer is pitching).
There isn’t enough schedule left in the 2018 season for these one-run outliers to fully correct. It’s going to be at least partly an “unlucky” season for Washington no matter what happens from now through the end of September. But just a little “regression” for all three teams will tighten this race during the stretch run. Washington still has time to justify preseason championship odds.