With 100 to go, Nationals have work to do

SAN FRANCISCO - Good morning from the Bay Area. I’m on my way to the airport to catch a flight to San Diego, where the Nationals begin a four-game series with the Padres tonight. I spent the morning splicing video and still images for my first turn behind the camera - my little tour of AT&T Park. Look for that later today - and judge my cinematography gently. There’s a lot I don’t know about it yet.


Anyway, the Nationals have played 62 games after yesterday’s 3-1 loss to the Giants, meaning they have 100 left in the season. Junctures in a baseball season are almost always artificial and trivial, since there are so many games and so many chances for the season to turn. But the 100-to-go mark does allow us to do some easy math.

The Nationals are 27-35 at the moment. So to improve on last year’s 69-93 finish, they’d have to go 43-57 the rest of the way. That’s actually about what they’re on pace to do; their .435 winning percentage through 62 games projects to 70.5 wins over 162 games.

When the Nationals revamped their roster for their new pitching-and-defense approach, they thought they could improve by a handful of games just by playing cleaner baseball. And they’ve pitched and played defense better than they did in 2010. But an anemic offense - which has scored just 236 runs and helped them fall to eight under .500 despite only being outscored by 11 runs - needs to make a big jump for the team to make some real improvement. They’ll get Ryan Zimmerman back soon, and that should give them a boost; he’s still fifth on the team in Wins Above Replacement despite only playing eight games.

But to get to, say, 75 wins, the Nationals would have to go 48-52 the rest of the way. Going .500 in the final 100 would get them to 77 wins. And to reach .500 for the year - a juncture they haven’t been to since 2005 - they’d need to go 54-46, or play at an 87-win pace for almost two-thirds of the season. A chance at significant improvement, the kind that would virtually ensure manager Jim Riggleman’s 2012 option gets picked up, has been reduced by the team’s inability to score runs early. With Zimmerman coming back, the Nationals need to hope they can snap to life.

I’ll have more from San Diego - and if I can channel my inner Ken Burns before I get on the plane, I’ll post my video tour.