With the All-Star break upon us, the Washington Nationals will begin baseball’s second half in second place in the NL East and first place in the NL Wild Card. Mathematically, the Nats only have 73 games remaining, and they amazingly have 14 head-to-head games against the first place Atlanta Braves. The Nationals have been playing at a .718 winning percentage since May 24th, and if they finish the season at a .630 winning percentage, they would win 93 games for the season. The key word is “if” and the Nationals are at a record of 47-42 before they play their next game on Friday against the Phillies.
The Nationals have a nine game road trip from Philadelphia to Baltimore for two games, and then a four game series against the Braves before returning home for a four game series against the Rockies, three games against the Dodgers and three games against the Braves to finish July that takes the team to the trade deadline.
At the trade deadline, the Nationals season will be 2/3 complete at 109 games. If the Nationals can find some salary dump players, they would only be responsible for 1/3 of a player’s salary on a July 31st deal. We covered some ideas on trade deadline candidates and more are emerging as teams fall out of the playoff hunt. Much of the Nationals needs will depend on the health of their fifth starter, Jeremy Hellickson, who remains on the IL with shoulder tendinitis in his throwing shoulder. Hellickson was moved to the 60-day IL and will not be eligible to be activated until July 21st if he was healthy.
The Nationals last three losses all came from the #5 spot in the rotation. If Hellickson is not ready to go soon, could general manager Mike Rizzo call his frequent trade partner Billy Beane and get a short-term rental of LHP Brett Anderson or RHP Mike Fiers who has is signed through 2020. Maybe Rizzo can call Farhan Zaidi and get RHP Jeff Samardzija or see if the Tigers would trade RHP Jordan Zimmermann (yes, a 6.29 ERA) or lefty Matthew Boyd. There is Mike Leake with the Mariners who has a history with Stephen Strasburg, but all of this might be a moot point as Rizzo might not even look to add to his rotation because a team only uses four starters in the post-season. The Nats could stick with who they have, but the number five spot in the rotation has been a black hole for most of the season.
Some would say that the Nationals still have not fixed their bullpen even though their ERA has improved from the 7’s to 6.08. Their 1.55 WHIP is now the second worst in the Majors as Baltimore has taken over the top spot. The Nats are close to signing former closer Brad Boxberger, and Fernando Rodney is taking more high lev innings.
“With Fernando, he’s done it. He has pitched in big moments,” Martinez said. “He gets it.”
Still, Mike Rizzo could look to bolster the bullpen given all of the upgrades available on the trade market. Generally, the best bullpen arms can cost the most in deadline trades. Rizzo is well aware of this as he has made deadline deals for Kelvin Herrera, Sean Doolittle, Mark Melancon, and Jonathan Papelbon.
There is also the discussion about upgrading the bench and looking for a left-handed second baseman, and Eric Sogard has played every infield position except for first base including “plus” defense at 3rd base as well as some leftfield and rightfield. The Nationals are carrying a four man bench and would certainly need a five man bench for the postseason. Sogard is batting .294 this season against both righties and lefties and has a .921 OPS against right-handed pitchers. He is a short-term rental making league minimum with the Blue Jays.
These next few weeks will be pivotal for the Nationals in the standings and their roster construction.