WASHINGTON — As we pointed out in this space earlier this year — when the Nats had a far better than one percent chance of winning their division — one of the reasons they seemed to have a chance for a strong finish was their soft schedule down the stretch. The biggest reason that schedule seemed so easy was that it included a heavy dose of fellow NL East teams. Those teams, and the division in general, have been some of the worst in baseball this year.
But it’s crazy to see how truly terrible they’ve been. The idea coming into the season was that a poor NL East only fueled the thought that the Nationals could win it easily. Instead, their underperformance has combined with the other four teams to form one of the worst divisions we’ve seen in a while.
Heading into play Thursday, the NL East is a combined 66 games under .500 with a -329 run differential. It is, without question, the worst division in baseball. To put it in perspective, the next worst division in baseball in terms of record is the NL West at 14 games under .500. The worst by run differential is the AL Central at -94. Either way you slice it, the NL East is leaps and bounds below.
In fact, the 2015 NL East is the worst division in baseball in 10 years. The 2006 NL Central finished 65 games below .500 with a -344 run differential, but that was when the leagues were unbalanced, so that futility was spread over six teams instead of five. You have to go back a year earlier, to the 2005 NL West, to find a divisional unequivocally worse.
That year, the San Diego Padres were the only team to crack .500 in the NL West, and they did so by the skins of their collective teeth, finishing 82-80 with a -42 run differential. Every other team lost between 85-95 games, resulting in a cumulative record of 372-438, 66 games below even. Every team also finished with a negative run differential, a stunning -490 in all.
Thankfully, there aren’t enough inter-divisional games left for this year’s NL East to fall that far in terms of run differential, but the Mets still have four more games at Cincinnati, the Nats one with Baltimore and one with Cincinnati, the Marlins with three at Tampa Bay and the Braves with three in St. Louis. So in terms of overall record, this could still very well be the worst since the 119-loss Detroit Tigers guided the 2003 AL Central to 70 games below .500.
While there is no singular team as bad as those 2003 Tigers, if the Marlins finish 6-4 or worse in their final 10, this year’s NL East will be the first division with at three 91+ loss teams since the 2001 NL Central.
The good news? Unless each of those bottom feeders makes significant offseason improvements, there should be easy wins ripe for the picking in 2016 as well.