Over the last month, the Nationals have done well to right the ship and start running off wins.
They've gotten their record back above .500 and slowly chipped away at the massive deficit they had built up behind the wild card leaders.
Unfortunately, as we all know, when you build up such a massive deficit, you need to be close to perfect to overcome your previous struggles. You also need a lot of help.
The Nats have been playing at an incredibly high level for the last five weeks or so, but they haven't been perfect. And they're not getting much help.
Last night was a prime example. The Nats had a 2-0 lead over the rival Braves after five innings, but saw the Braves rattle off four unanswered runs and hold on for a 4-2 win. A tough loss to take, and especially tough when the Reds ended up beating the Astros in 13 innings hours later, bumping Cincinnati's lead in the race for the final National League wild card spot back to 5 1/2 games.
As I wrote last night, taking two of three from the Braves is considered a plus the vast majority of the time. But not when you're in the spot the Nationals are in right now. They needed all three games with Atlanta, and they didn't get them.
"Any other time of the year, that's a pretty good series, especially against these guys," Adam LaRoche said. "But right now, we can't afford to lose any. So going into the series thinking two of three is pretty good, you win the first two, you want that third one."
The Nats now are 5 1/2 games back with 10 games left on the schedule. The improbable is starting to look a lot more like the impossible.
BaseballProspectus.com gives the Nats a 1 percent chance of making the postseason. CoolStandings.com is more optimistic; that site gives the Nats a 1.5 percent chance.
To get to 90 wins, the Nats would need to finish the season 9-1, and then they'd have to hope the Reds would go 3-6 to even force a one-game playoff to see who earns the final wild card. There's also a very slim chance the Pirates could end up factoring in here, as well; they'd have to go 3-7 down the stretch to give the Nats a shot at a play-in game, of sorts.
The reality is that while the Nationals have played much better baseball over the last four to five weeks, they really haven't gained all that much ground in the wild card hunt.
They've gone 21-7 over their last 28 games, moving from four games under .500 to 10 games over. But despite that incredibly high level of play (they've played at a 122-win pace in the last 28 games) the Nats' wild card deficit has only been trimmed by five games.
Five games is nothing to sneeze at, but what I'm trying to illustrate is that the Nats were in so deep of a hole that not even the best record in baseball over a month-long stretch would get them back in it.
Last night, the Nats lost for just the second time in their last 12 games. And they still wake up this morning 5 1/2 back of the Reds.
The Nats would have been in better position had they swept the Braves last night. But would it really have mattered? They needed to overcome such a large deficit created by such a disappointing level of play for four months that they needed more than just an extended run of strong baseball. They needed a miracle, and it doesn't look like they're going to get it.