The Washington Nationals (57-81) have 24 games to go in what has been one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history. Since July 30, the season has been more about seeing what they have in the young controllable players in their system.
Having fallen way out of contention, GM Mike Rizzo had no choice but to perform a fire sale at the trade deadline. He sent All-Stars Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Yan Gomes and Josh Harrison to the Oakland A’s, reliever Daniel Hudson to the San Diego Padres, and slugger Kyle Schwarber to the Boston Red Sox as the main departures. Of course Brad Hand was shipped to Toronto and Jon Lester to St. Louis. The Nats traded those eight players for a dozen in return.
The Nationals are just two years removed from a World Series championship, but they had little choice but to begin a rebuild with several of the core players from 2019 long gone.
With less than a month remaining, the Nationals are playing for pride and the chance to play spoiler in the tight NL East race while assessing the players who could be part of their future.
On Tuesday, the Nationals started a three-game series against the NL East division leading Atlanta Braves, and the Nats battled as they have done so often recently and then came up short after tying the game against the Braves’ bullpen. Top sportsbooks list the Nationals as the +1.5 favorites for the next two games.
There has been a lot going on with manager Dave Martinez’s ball club.
Earlier this week, the Nationals demoted struggling outfielder Victor Robles to their Triple-A affiliate, the Rochester Red Wings. He is still hitting under .200 for Rochester.
A cornerstone member of the 2019 World Series championship team, Robles has recorded career worsts in batting average (.203) and OPS (.605). He has just two homers and 19 RBI in 369 plate appearances across 107 games.
“It shows you how tough it is to stay in the big leagues,” Zimmerman said. “In (2019) when we won it, I think [Robles]was a finalist for a gold glove. He hit .260-to-.270 with almost 20 home runs. One of the top defensive center fielders and he hits almost 20 home runs, I mean, those are the guys that you need on your team.”
Zimmerman expressed the importance of Robles getting enough at-bats in the minors. The soon-to-be 37-year-old is also optimistic that Robles will eventually find his way back on the team
“When you have guys that are young, and (Robles) isn’t super young anymore, but he’s not a bench guy. So he’s just got to go down there and get at-bats,” Zimmerman explained. “But I’m sure he’ll be back up again. That shows you how quickly things can change, and it’s a tough league man, it really is.”
Juan Soto Hits Another Milestone
Superstar outfielder Juan Soto has been one of the few positives in a dismal 2021 season for the Nationals. In Thursday’s 7-6 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, the 22-year-old Soto recorded his 40th career game with at least one homer and one walk.
Per Sarah Langs of MLB.com, this gives Soto the fifth-most career games with at least a home run and a walk before his 23rd birthday since 1901.
Needless to say, Washington’s future remains extremely bright with Soto continuing to grow as one of the game’s elite stars.
Alex Avila Activated From IL
On Wednesday, the Nationals announced that veteran catcher Alex Avila has been activated from the 10-day IL.
The 34-year-old and one-time All-Star has been sidelined for two months because of calf strains. His last game appearance was July 1, a 6-2 home loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Prior to his injury, Avila — in his first season with the Nationals — made 85 plate appearances in 24 games. On the season, he’s batting .167 with an OPS of .633. Avila has 11 hits and six RBI.
During Avila’s absence, Riley Adams (acquired from Toronto in the Hand trade), served as the main catcher in Washington. Adams has flourished with his new team, batting .341 with an impressive 1.010 OPS in 19 games.
Nats Hold 25th Spot In ESPN’s Power Rankings
ESPN released the week 21 edition of their power rankings on Thursday. The Nationals were placed 25th, which is exactly where they ranked last week.
Only the Chicago Cubs (26th), Pittsburgh Pirates (27th), Texas Rangers (28th), Arizona Diamondbacks (29th) and Baltimore Orioles (30th) placed lower.