The Good with the Bad: Do or Die

The Good With the Bad is a segment in which contributor Luigi (Ouij) de Guzman (@ouij) and Citizens of Natstown's Alyssa Wolice break down the negatives and positives for each series, respectively. You, the reader, can then decide to see the glass half empty - or full - with each series wrap.

The 2015 season has been a rocky one for the Washington Nationals, considering how universally favored they were to make - and win - the World Series. Washington has stood in second place in the NL East for 35 days straight, and the second NL Wild Card spot lies even further out of reach.

Yet, the 71-65 squad is faced with a golden opportunity this week by way of a three-game home set against the NL-East leading New York Mets.

Riding a five-game win streak, during which the Mets did little to forfeit ground in the standings, the Nats have an opportunity to all but catch New York. Just the same, should the Mets emerge the winners of the series, the Nats would fall either five or six games back in the race.

THE GOOD: The Nationals are heating up at just the right time

So often, avid sports fans will comment on the mere fact that teams that heat up mid-season or earlier run the risk of burning out just as others kick it into high gear for the playoff race. At the very least, the Nats are finding their stride - and offensive firepower - just at the right time. With six games left to play against the Mets, the Nats could break even against other opponents and still hold onto one last shot at catching the division.

The Nats can also look ahead to a more level playing field. Given the Matt Harvey innings cap drama, Washington could encounter a New York squad playing at less than its full potential. True, the Mets have one of the easiest September schedules in the Majors. But, the Nats, too, face some lagging teams in the coming weeks—including the Miami Marlins (57-80), Philadelphia Phillies (53-84), and Atlanta Braves (53-84) for a total 16 games.

THE BAD: The Mets could send the Nats back down to Earth

The Nats have a losing record against the New York Mets this season, thanks to a three-game sweep by the Mets at Citi Field to start August. Even if the Mets fail to field their best team for the remainder of the season, the Nats’ woes are not made obsolete but a few Curly Ws in Atlanta. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Nats have a 14 percent chance of surpassing the Mets for the postseason ticket - and that number will certainly shrink with each loss to New York. The Nats’ attack against Braves’ pitching will matter little if they can’t carry that momentum through the remainder of September. Given the fact that the Braves have lost 19 of their last 20 contests, Nats fans have little reason to expect the Nats to continue the offensive onslaught down the stretch.

THE GOOD: Nationals pitching is holding strong

To many, the Nationals’ roster moves - including the offseason signing of Max Scherzer and the midseason pickup of Jonathan Papelbon - appeared excessive. But, given Washington’s offensive struggles and health battles this season, every pitching asset has become critical to survival. Even as the Nats tacked on run after run against Atlanta pitching, Jordan Zimmermann held the Braves to two hits over six innings and Gio Gonzalez allowed just two hits and four walks over six innings. Young guns Sammy Solis and Rafael Martin came up with solid outings, and Jonathan Papelbon took home his third win of the season.

THE BAD: The Nats’ early-season woes remain their late-season woes

Questionable managerial decisions, poor bullpen management, impactful injuries… many of the issues that stung the Nationals at the start of the season remain the achilles’ heel with October only weeks away. The Nats need to treat their remaining games against the Mets exactly as they are - playoff games. But, they need to revise their approach to such make-or-break situations in order to produce a new result. A series loss to the Mets all but guarantees the Nats will pack their bags once Game 162 is complete. Similarly, a series win does little to ensure the ultimate come-from-behind-to-clinch scenario. Either way, this week’s series needs to serve as a wakeup call for Washington, a team that has struggled against teams with winning records as of late. For all intents and purposes, the playoffs begin now for Washington, and any shot at writing a new ending depends largely on Matt Williams’ ability to strategize.

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