ST. LOUIS Even in a frustratingseason thats been one painful moment after another, the Nationals lo s to the Cardinals on Monday night stands out.Its a tough one, manager Matt Williams said, mastering the understatement.MORE: Worst September collapse for every NL teamThe Nationals had rallied from a 3-1 deficit to take the lead on the team with the best record in baseball, capped by a three-run homer by Ryan Zimmerman in the seventh inning. In the moment, it felt like a potential turning point for a season that could yet be salvaged.Washington had won six of its past eight games heading into Monday night, and to come into St. Louis and steal a late-inning victory against the Cardinals could have been a huge momentum booster heading into the seasons final month. But in the bottom half of the frame, the home team scored five runs all with two outs to take an 8-5 lead.In the situation were in, every game matters, said crestfallen reliever Casey Jan sen, who was charged with four of those seventh-inning runs. We have to win every game we have the opportunity to win, and we had a pretty good opportunity tonight.Even after the bottom-of-the-seventh debacle, though, the Nationals had a chance in the ninth. With two on and no outs, they had likely National League MVP Bryce Harper at the plate representing the tying run. It was their dream rally situation.But then something happened that was so very 2015 Nationals.St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal unleashed a fastball that skipped past catcher Yadier Molina and Anthony Dansby Swanson Jersey
Rendon took off from first toward second. Problem was, Jayson Werth didnt take off toward third from second, and when the ball bounced off the backstop directly to Molina, Rendon was stuck in no-mans land.He was tagged out, Harper was walked and the Nationals got nothing out of the inning. They lost the game by that 8-5 score and fell to 66-64 on the season.This wasnt how September was supposed to start for the Nationals. This was supposed to be their coronation month, when they officially locked up their NL East title and tweaked their roster and rotation for a long run deep into the playoffs. Everybody expected this team, which won 96 games in 2014, brought back pretty much everybody of significance and added former AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to the rotation, to steamroll the NL.Before the season, ESPN polled 88 of its in-house baseball folks, and 37 picked the Nationals to win the World Series (no other team got even 20 votes). And 85 of those 88 voters picked Washington to win the NL East (two picked the Marlins and one the Mets).Over at FanGraphs, all 38 voters picked the Nationals to win the NL East, a clean sweep. Of Sports Illustrateds six published expert predictions, all six picked the Nationals to win the NL East and three picked them to win the World Series. At CBSSports.com, all five picked the Nationals to win the division, and YahooSports had the same results with all five of their voters. SNs Je se Spector picked them to win the NL East, and then had them losing to the Cardinals in a division round of the playoffs.You get the point. The Nationals were, on paper, the best team in baseball heading into the season. The Nationals have been, on the field, MLBs most disappointing team.And now its September.Everybody understands where were at and whats in front Dale Murphy Jersey
of us, Williams said.Where theyre at is second place in the NL East, behind the Mets, who have a 6.5 game lead in the NL East (at 73-58) and 31 games left this season. The Nationals have 32 games left after Monday nights lo s in St. Louis, and their odds aren't good.ELIAS: Since 1969, only 2 teams have come back to win a division after being 6.5 games back (or more) entering Sept.: '78 Yankees, '95 SEA Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) September 1, 2015Lets look at the numbers. If the Mets play just under .500 baseball the rest of the way and win 15 of those 31 games, that would give them a 88-74 record for the season. The Nationals would have to go 22-10 to catch them and force a one-game tiebreaker.If the Mets approximate their current season winning percentage (.557) and go 17-14, the Nationals would have to go 24-8. This teams capable of that type of succe s; they had a stretch of 20 wins in 25 games from late April to mid-May this season.They have every component you would need, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. Theyve got power all the way through the lineup, they have one of the most athletic lineups in baseball and nobody needs to tell you about their starting staff and their bullpen.If the Mets come close to matching their ridiculous August winning percentage (.714) and go 22-9, theyd finish with a 95-67 record and the Nationals would have to go 29-3.That, of course, isnt happening.And forget about the wild card. The Cubs currently own that spot, and their record (74-56) is better than the Mets record.So the team that was supposed to be baseballs best has reached September needing ma sive help to reach the playoffs. And the Mets, of course, could offer that help.Mets fans know that all too well. Theyre still smarting from the debacle that was the end of the 2007 season, when their favorite team had a seven-game lead in the NL East with 17 games left on the schedule and wound up mi sing the playoffs entirely. And every franchise has a similar heartbreaking September collapse story, as SN chronicled here last summer.For the Nationals to have any realistic chance, they have to sweep the Mets in their three-game series at home, September 7-9. The teams play again in New York the final three games of the season, but those games wont matter if the Nationals Freddie Freeman Jersey
dont make up ground between now and then.And if the Nationals keep losing games in Mondays painful fashion, they wont make up that ground.