There are just 70-games remaining in the regular season for the Washington Nationals. If this team just goes 40-30 the remainder of the season, they will exceed the final Fangraphs projection of 88-wins. An 89 win season most likely means the Nationals would be one of the two Wild Card teams, and a Wild Card win almost certainly sends them to Los Angeles for an NLDS against the Dodgers. If we spoke like this on the morning of May 24th, we would be considered delusional when the team was 19-31 on the season.
Since that low point on May 23rd, the Nats have gone 30-12, and it is all about how you finish. By the time the team flies out of Atlanta past midnight on Sunday we should know more as the season will have 39% to go to the finish line with a clear understanding if winning the division is a possibility. Okay, it is possible, but is it within the realm of reality?
As of today, the Nats have 14 games remaining with Atlanta with a 7.0 game deficit in the division. The Nats are up 3-2 in the season series. Are you telling me there’s a chance!
If Max Scherzer was healthy and able to pitch yesterday, raise your hand if you believe the Nationals win that game in Philadelphia. Everyone is raising their hands. Maybe the Nats should have won it if they just took advantage of Jake Arrieta in what seemed like a foolish seeding of their rotation by the Phillies braintrust. The point is you have to win games like yesterday with Anibal Sanchez on the mound.
You also cannot sleep on these two games in Baltimore with Austin Voth pitching and a TBA for Wednesday. With Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Anibal Sanchez lined up, we will see where Max Scherzer is inserted into the mix. The hope is for Saturday when he is eligible to return from the 10-day IL or it could be Sunday for the ESPN Sunday Night game if Strasburg pitches on Thursday in Atlanta.
“The [starters] have carried us throughout the season and will continue to,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “Our roster is based on them performing well. The ‘Big Four’ guys have pitched terrific for us.”
The 1,000 pound gorilla in the room is still the need for upgrades in the roster for the front of the bullpen, the number-5 pitcher spot, and the utility infielder. The “Matt Grace” spot in the bullpen just turned into another loss yesterday and the starters past the “Big Four” have collectively been a drain on the team not only in the loss column but also stressing the bullpen.
The number five spot has been filled by Jeremy Hellickson, Erick Fedde, Austin Voth, and Kyle McGowin. Their collective ERA is 5.54 which tells you all you need to know. Fedde has performed the best by far in that group with a starter’s ERA of 3.94 in his six starts this season, but he has averaged just below 5.0 innings per start. So who pitches on Wednesday in Baltimore?
Most of the teams vying for playoff spots need a number one or a number two pitcher. The Nationals just need a competent number five and a healthy Max Scherzer, and a back of the bullpen where manager Dave Martinez does not feel like he must pitch Sean Doolittle with a four-run lead in the ninth inning.
General manager Mike Rizzo has a sweet sixteen days left to upgrade this team before the July 31st trade deadline. He can look to salary dumps with around $5 million under the CBT to spend, and he can look to some change of scenery candidates. He should not be trading top prospects at this point, but he does need to upgrade the roster.
ESPN has put together a list of trade candidates on this link. It has many of the top names and does not include many of the secondary names on salary dumps and change of scenery candidates.
Looking towards the future, what will things look like one week from today?