It's hard to find someone who is betting against the Washington Nationals this season. The enthusiasm has seemingly reached a fevered pitch, and rightly so -- the team boasts an impressive array of talent. But while Washington should be considered a favorite, the Nats are far from a sure thing.
A lot of the enthusiasm is based on the fact that the Nationals won 98 games last season, the most in baseball. But WAR paints a different story. As a team, Washington ranked fifth in team WAR (per FanGraphs) and was closer to 10th place than first.
Now, certainly a team doesn't need to lead the league in WAR to win 100 games. We don't need to go back any further than 2011 to find an example of that; the '11 Phillies posted a 102-60 record while finishing fourth in total WAR.
But then, a 100-win season wouldn't really be an improvement for the Nationals, as that would essentially be the same record as they had last year. No, a real improvement would be a 105-win season -- seven more wins than last year, or just over one more win per month. Since baseball moved to a 162-game season in 1961, this has happened only nine times, and all nine teams were either first or second in their league in WAR -- and usually by a significant amount. The nine teams were on average worth five more WAR than the next-best team. An objective look at the 2013 Nationals does not show such a juggernaut.