Will the Braves or the Nationals Win the NL East?
After 90-plus games, the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals are still playing a high-stakes game of footsie in the National League East. When one team seems to be making an advance, the other pounces and puts it back in its place. It's what gets us baseball geeks all hot and bothered in the morning.
As the ceremonial second half begins today, the Nationals hold a one-game advantage in the loss column, but the two teams are technically tied in the divisional standings. From July 6th on, neither team has had a lead of more than one game (I know that includes the All-Star break, but just let this stat live, yo).
The thing about this deadlock, though, is that it will eventually end. One team will take home the N.L. East crown, and the other will chill with the Phillies and have a playoffs viewing party. Or they might get the Wild Card, but that doesn't involve mani-pedi combos with Dom Brown, so it really seems like the less desirable combo.
There's certainly a case to be made for both sides of this little tussle. Below, I'll lay out the argument in favor of both teams. I'll give my prediction of who'll end up on top, but I want to hear what y'all think, too. Leave your thoughts in the comment box below or on this question in the numberFire question forum after you read both sides.
In both instances, I'll be mentioning the team's respective nERD scores. That's the numberFire-specific stat that shows how many runs above or below average a team is. If a team with a 2.00 nERD were to play a team with a -1.00 nERD at a neutral site, the team with the higher nERD would be expected to win by three runs. It also has a cool name, which is an added bonus. If you want to read more about nERD, you can click here. Now, let's get to it!
The Case for the Braves
What's the biggest thing the Braves have going for them? I picked the Nats to win the N.L pennant before the season, which means Washington's definitely not going to the playoffs.
The Braves were never supposed to be in this position at the start of the season. After all of the injuries they had in spring training, everyone with a pulse had counted them out of contention. Yet, here they are 95 games into the season tied for the third best record in the entire National League.
Within the next few days, the team is scheduled to get one of their key cogs back.
Evan Gattis is slated for his first rehab assignment tomorrow night at the @GwinnettBraves . 6:35 first pitch vs. Durham Bullsâ€” Atlanta Braves (@Braves) July 16, 2014
Gattis was in the process of destroying baseballs when he got hurt back on June 27th. In that month, Gattis hit .353/.402/.635 with a .444 weighted on-base average (wOBA) to bring his season totals to .290/.342/.558 with a .386 wOBA. Gattis's 1.72 nERD (runs above an average hitter if he were to record 27 plate appearances) is outstanding for a catcher. Putting his stick back in the order automatically amplifies the Braves' shot at besting the Nats.
What's the even better news about Gattis's injury? During the time he was on the D.L., the Braves actually picked up a game on Washington. Sure, the Braves played the Phillies, Mets, Diamondbacks and Samardzija-less Cubs, but still.
These two teams still have nine games remaining on the schedule this year. That's good news for the Braves. In their previous ten meetings this year, the Braves have gone 7-3. The pitching staff has a 2.35 ERA and 10.17 strikeouts per nine innings against the Nats on the season. They have simply been dominant. And the early part of the schedule favors them, as well.
Out of the break, the Braves have three games against the Phillies, three against the Marlins, and seven games against the Padres with a three-game tilt with the Dodgers sandwiched in there. The Phillies and Padres have the 29th- and 30th-highest team wOBA's respectively this season. This could help Atlanta build a cushion over Washington before the Braves begin their tough stretch. But when the race is this close, any advantage is huge.
The Case for the Nationals
If the Braves have the schedule on their side, the Nats have the stats. Like, all of them. Every single one. It's borderline ridiculous.
Below is a chart that shows some relevant stats for each of the teams. To say that it's one-sided would be a gross understatement.
|Team||nERD||Starter ERA||Reliever ERA||FIP||OBP||SLUG||wOBA|
Obviously, the one that I'm most interested in is the nERD of each team. Their 0.39 mark puts the Nats sixth in numberFire's power rankings. The Braves, on the other hand, sit in 16th place.
This statistical dominance by the Nats has led them to having a plus-50 run-differential, the highest in the N.L. and the highest for any non-A.L.-West team. The Braves, on the other hand sit at plus-12, which is actually seven runs worse than the third-place Mets.
The Nats' 3.28 starters' ERA is the second lowest in the N.L. behind only the Dodgers. With studs like Jordan Zimmermann, Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez, that's not even a minuscule shock. What is surprising, though, is that it has the potential to improve in the second half.
Earlier this week, numberFire's John Stolnis wrote about how Stephen Strasburg has actually become an underrated pitcher. I couldn't agree more with what John wrote (give it a read if you haven't yet). The scariest part about John's conclusion: Strasburg has actually been unlucky this year and will only be better in the second half. Slurpin' on that silly sauce, son.
Who Gets the Nod?
Looking back at those power rankings, we can see that Washington has higher playoff odds (66.9 percent) than the Braves (61.2 percent). So, the computer is on the side of the Nats, and so am I. At the end of the day, the Nats have too much pitching depth to succumb to the Braves.
Even with a healthy Gattis, I just don't see Atlanta having enough fire-power to hang on into October. That said, they've already exceeded everyone's expectations through the first 95 games. It's totally possible they could do the same for the next 67. No matter what happens, I do know one thing: it's going to be a lot of fun to watch.