With roughly 2½ to 4 weeks to go in the regular season for the seven Nationals affiliates, it’s time for the annual assessment of playoff chances.
As noted in the comments, this time of year you’re just as likely to see folks proclaim that winning in the minors is overrated as you’ll see folks insist that it’s actually underrated. I can’t help but notice that it seems to be inversely proportional to the playoff chances of the writer’s favorite team or organization.
Obviously, player development is the most important objective of the farm system, even if I’m sure folks can come up with seemingly contradictory examples (*cough*, Carlos Alvarez, *cough*, Chien-Ming Wang, *cough*). As a prospect follower, I believe there is something to be said for playing an extra week or two of heightened competition. As a sportswriter, I love writing about the pennant chase. As a fan, I love playoff baseball.
For the third straight summer, we’re looking at multiple teams having a chance at postseason play. Without further ado, here’s a look at the odds for each affiliate…
Perhaps without the litany of injuries in Washington, the Chiefs might have had a chance at the playoffs with Corey Brown, Tyler Moore, and Bryce Harper in the lineup every day for another few weeks together. They’re still mathematically alive, as last September demonstrated that an 8½ game lead can vanish in a month. But with an elimination number of 21 with 28 games left, the odds are very slim. The Chiefs’ mission is keeping the potential call-ups healthy and ready for a September in DC.
A month ago, this team looked like a lock to make the playoffs, reeling off eight straight wins to begin July. They would then lose 10 of the next 11 and by month’s end fell from 1st place to 5th place in the E.L. West. They’re currently 4½ games out of wild-card contention and have eight (8) players on the DL, of which three (Chris Rahl, Jeff Kobernus, and Cameron Selik) are nearly certain not to return. Injuries and promotions (Eury Perez, Zach Walters) aside, the inability of the team to score in close ballgames and/or with runners in scoring position does not bode well for the team if it were to make it to the playoffs.
The good news is that they play their last 12 games against the two teams they’re chasing (Bowie, Richmond) but they have to make hay starting today against the Flying Squirrels. Ordinarily (see below), the talk would be about home-field advantage, but the Senators have played much better on the road (31-26) than at home (24-34) all season long. A similar showing in the six games against playoff contenders (Akron, Reading) in the next nine home games could make the last dozen overall merely an exercise in spoiling the hopes of their divisional foes.
Potomac is fortunate in that the Carolina League chooses to have two four-team divisions despite having a balanced schedule. What this means it’s that it’s possible for a team to make the playoffs with a losing record or an inferior record to the other second-place if the balance of power happens to be in concentrated in one division, as it is this season and largely has been the past few seasons. There are 13 home games and 14 road games left for Potomac, and nine games left against the two teams they’re trying to beat out for the wild card. There are no more games against first-half winner and first-place Lynchburg.
This is significant because the Carolina League has not only reverted to a best-of-three for the first round, but a double half winner gets to host all three potential games. The first-half winner gets the choice of whether to host Game One, with the other team hosting Game Two and the potential Game Three. That’s a strong incentive to not mail in the second half as a certain Baltimore affiliate has in recent years. Should the P-Nats rally to win the division, as it did in 2011, the Hillcats might do well to gamble on opening in Woodbridge and having at least two chances to win in Lynchburg.
Hagerstown has been in contention all season long and has been hitting all season long, but the pitching has been unreliable. Fourteen different pitchers have made two or more starts for the Suns. Two starters have been sent up to Potomac (Alex Meyer, Nathan Karns), along with the team’s All-Star closer (Aaron Barrett). The replacements have had mixed success, but if this team is going to make the postseason, it will have to what it has done all season long and outslug its mound mistakes.
The Suns have had the more traditional home-road split — 36-18 at the Muni, 30-30 on the road. Fourteen of its last 25 are at home, and 19 of those 25 games are against divisional opponents. Like Potomac, they have no more games against the current first-place team, West Virginia, and just three more against the team that they’re tied for second place with (Hickory). Unlike Potomac, they do have a chance to knock back the first-half winners (Greensboro), if they make a run at winning both halves, though they’ll have to do it on the road. Overall, things look good to get to the playoffs, but getting past the first round is far less certain.
The Doubledays have been in the driver’s seat for the Pinckney Division all season long. They hold a 3½ game lead over second-place State College and have a favorable schedule (15 of 29 at home) the rest of the way. The problem is that with both rounds being best-of-three, it doesn’t matter how well they’re playing now. It’s how well they’re playing a month from now. Say what you will about them being one of the oldest teams in the league, though the gap between them and the league average is probably smaller than you might think (21.8 vs. 21.1 for the bats, 21.7 vs. 21.3 for the arms).
A four-game win streak has brought them under 10 games behind in the GCL East and to seven back in the wild card race, but this team only gets to the postseason as spectators.
The D-Nats have been a slightly better than .500 team for most of the season with a team that’s at league average for pitcher age and below league average for hitters. Unfortunately, in the DSL there are half-a-dozen teams that are .556+ (a.k.a. a 90-win team) and roughly the same number that are sub-.383 (a.k.a. a 100-loss team).