We're officially in the second half of the All-Star break now, which means it's time to start looking forward to, well, the second half of the season. I'll have a more thorough look at the key storylines tomorrow, but for now, I'd like to take a quick look at the schedule for the second half. In short: Get ready for a lot of the Braves and Phillies.
The Nationals play two six-game couplets against those teams, starting at the end of this month when the Braves come in for three games, followed by three against the Phillies. Then the Nationals travel to Atlanta and Philadelphia from Aug. 17-22, again from Sept. 13-19 and close their home schedule against the two teams from Sept. 24-29.
All 24 games are the Braves first, then the Phillies, three days of one of the NL's deepest pitching staffs followed by three days of its most potent lineup (when the Phillies are healthy, which they haven't been for much of the year). Nearly one-third of the Nationals' 73 remaining games are against those two teams, and we'll get a good sense of how the Nats fare against two good teams that will see them plenty.
Thirty-nine of Washington's final 79 games are against division opponents (12 against the Braves, 12 against the Phillies, nine against the Marlins and six against the Mets). So if the Nationals were going to make some type of miracle playoff run, there'd be the opportunity to do it.
Let's dream for just a second here, and say the Nationals go 26-13 (a .667 winning percentage) in the division games. That'd put them two games over .500 with 34 games left against the likes of the Diamondbacks, Cubs, Brewers and Astros. A 22-12 record outside of the division would get them to 87 wins, which would put them in the hunt, not to mention give handfuls of losses to the division teams in front of them.
Farfetched? Absolutely. But the Nationals are 15-15 against the NL East this year. That kind of a tear merely means winning one extra game for every six times they play a division opponent. And against every single division opponent, you can point to a game this year the Nats let slip away.
Back to more realistic terms: A 20-19 mark against the division would put the Nationals at 59-69, not counting the 40 games against non-division opponents. If they played .500 ball outside of the division, they'd wind up with 72 wins, a 13-game improvement on last year. Playing outside the division at a .600 clip would get them 76 wins, 17 better than last year. Depending what the Marlins do, that might even be enough to lift the Nationals out of last place for the first time since 2007.
One thing they'll have to do is play better on the road; they have 38 of the final 73 away from Nationals Park, where they're just 14-29 this year.
Lastly, a couple highlights of the second half schedule:
-Stephen Strasburg faces the Phillies for the first, and only, time this year on Aug. 1 at Nationals Park. It's a shame he's not scheduled to pitch at Citizens Bank Park at all. That would've been fun - and maybe it was avoided on purpose. Oh well. Next spring, then.
-The Cubs come to town on Aug. 23, followed by the Cardinals on Aug. 26. Strasburg is slated to throw twice during that homestand, making possibly his final start of the year on Aug. 28 against the Cardinals and Albert Pujols. That game has a 4:10 Fox start written all over it -- which would rob the Nationals of one of their three remaining Saturday night games. The sound you hear is Kristen Hudak (we call her Who Dat) making that fake growling noise she makes every time she wants you to think she's really, really angry. We're not scared, Who Dat.
-The Nationals head to Pittsburgh for a Labor Day weekend series before playing two matinees in three days at home against the Mets in September. Pittsburgh's an easy drive, and the Labor Day game is a 1:05 p.m. start.
-The final homestand of the year is a long one, a 10-game slate against the Astros, Braves and Phillies before the Nationals close the year at New York.
Any thoughts on the second half schedule? Highlights I missed? Ways to handle growling bloggers? Let me know.