If you’re one of those who likes to cling to faint hopes and won’t concede anything until it’s 100 percent guaranteed, you’re in luck. Because the Nationals, despite their ridiculously long odds, are still mathematically alive in the National League pennant race.
And pretty much everything they needed to happen Monday night around the league actually happened.
The evening began with the Nats having no more margin for error. Their tragic number to be eliminated from contention was two, with a loss to the Phillies and a Reds win over the Brewers officially sealing their fate. But though Cincinnati won, the Nationals’ 5-1 win over Philadelphia kept them alive.
And after some favorable results from other games, they actually don’t need to worry about the Reds anymore. Cincinnati (28-27) now holds the No. 1 wild card seed in the NL (No. 7 overall), with the Phillies (27-27) in the next and final position for a postseason berth. The Nationals (21-32) can’t afford to lose another game, but at least they’re now playing the team they would need to catch in this miracle scenario.
It can get awfully confusing, because there are more teams qualifying for the postseason this year and the procedures are completely different from previous years. But here’s what you need to know:
* The three division winners, plus the three second-place clubs from each league are guaranteed postseason berths. The two next-best teams in each league get the final spots in the eight-team bracket.
* There will be no tiebreaker games this season, no Game 63 to settle a deadlock in the standings. Instead, teams that finish with the same overall record will be chosen for the playoffs based on their head-to-head record (if they faced each other in 2020) or their record within their division.
* The best the Nationals can do now is finish 28-32. Among second- and third-place clubs still in the race, the Marlins and Reds already have 28 wins. The Phillies have 27. The Cardinals, Brewers and Giants all have 26. The Nats would lose a tiebreaker to the Phillies (who already clinched the head-to-head season series) and Reds but could win a tiebreaker over the Cardinals, Brewers and Giants.
Is any of this reason to get your hopes up? No. It’s not going to happen. It’s just too small of a margin for error. The Nationals have to win out and hope several other teams nearly lose out.
But if you were wondering what it would take to pull off a miracle, there you have it.