Washington is 17-28 and has the third-worst record in the league. Despite all of this, now is not the time to worry.
A year after winning the World Series, everything has come tumbling down for Washington. Stephen Strasburg is out for the season. Anibal Sanchez is a shell of his former self. The back end of the rotation is a mess. Daniel Hudson, Sean Doolittle, and Will Harris, the three key bullpen guys who have always been reliable, have become inconsistent. Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross both opted out for the season. The offense outside of Trea Turner, Yan Gomes, and Juan Soto has become abysmal. So with all of this going on, why should Nationals fans avoid hitting the panic button? Because the future is bright
Surprisingly, Everything Is Not As Bad As It Seems
While the season is quickly slipping away from the Nats, take a deep breath, and look at the glass, which is really half full. In a shortened season, the Nationals have already been hit hard by injuries, notably to Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and Starlin Castro, Sean Doolittle, and Will Harris. It is hard to win games when your two best starters and two of your most reliable relievers all miss time. Castro had been the most consistent bat outside of Juan Soto and Trea Turner. His absence has been felt as the team has struggled to get on base.
Despite the team’s troubles, their championship window is still open and will be for quite some time. The team’s core of Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Patrick Corbin, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg is still intact. Strasburg underwent surgery and should be at full strength for 2021. Rookie Luis Garcia as emerged as a promising second baseman and Carter Kieboom is still adapting to the highest level.
The Nationals big three hasn’t been as dominant as they were in 2019. Max Scherzer finally looks mortal and has yet to post consecutive dominant starts. Two starts ago against the Rays, Scherzer was at his best. He threw seven shutout innings, allowed six hits, walked one, and struck out eight. Tampa Bay is first in the AL East and Scherzer made their offensive ineffective. However, his inconsistencies followed him into his most recent start against the Braves. On Sunday, Scherzer was the losing pitcher and only lasted 5.1 innings. He allowed six runs on nine hits and struck out 10. Through five innings he had only allowed two runs and had struck out ten, but in the sixth inning, he ran out of juice. He only recorded one out and gave up two two-run homers. While this is disappointing, he still posted his 98th 10+ strikeout game.
Patrick Corbin has also been plagued by inconsistency but has also been doomed by lack of run support. Strasburg is out for the season but should return for 2021. Outside of those three, the Nats will need to revamp the backend of the rotation. Having Joe Ross back will help, but the backend will need to be seriously attended to.
As it stands now, Washington has the third-worst record in the league and are only two games above the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have the worse overall record. The Nationals farm system is barren and a top draft pick would pay dividends in helping the future.
This season has led to the emergence of relievers, Tanner Rainey and Kyle Finnegan. Finnegan is a 29 rookie who spent his entire career in the Oakland Athletic’s minor league system. After the 2019 season, Finnegan became a free agent and signed a major league deal with the Nats and made his MLB debut with the team on July 25. In 15 games, Finnegan is 1-0, with a 3.72 ERA, and 22 strikeouts. In his most recent outing against the Braves, Finnegan struck out the side.
Tanner Rainey was acquired in the famous Tanner for Tanner trade, which sent fan favorite Tanner Roark to the Cincinnati Reds. 2019 was his rookie season and he flashed his upside. In 48.1 innings, he went 2-3, with a 3.91 ERA, a 4.37 FIP, and 74 strikeouts. He struggled with control issues, seen by his 13.8 K/9 and 7.1 BB/9. Fast forward to this season and Rainey still has control issues, but it has become a lot less frequent. In 20.1 innings this year, he is 1-1, with a 2.66 ERA, a 3.79 FIP, and 32 strikeouts. He lowered his BB/9 to a 3.1, while his K.9 increased to 14.2. Finnegan and Rainey have the potential to be the team’s future set up man and closer respectively. Throw in 29-year-old rookie Dakota Bacus and the Nats have the start of a promising bullpen, that will all be on rookie deals for the foreseeable future.
According to Spotrac, the team will have a projected $47 million to work with for 2021. They could always go over the tax, but the Lerner family has started to avoid that direction. Washington would be wise to reject the options for Howie Kendrick, Adam Eaton, and Anibal Sanchez. Washington needs to save as much money as possible and they can always sign them back on cheaper deals for depth. Doing this would allow for the team to splurge on a position player, something that hasn’t been done since Jayson Werth. A prime candidate would be the best catcher in baseball, J.T. Realmuto. He would immediately fill the void left behind by Anthony Rendon and would provide protection in the lineup for Soto. If Washington wants to preserve their money, Jake Odorizzi, Michael Brantley, Nelson Cruz, Marcus Stroman, and DJ LeMahieu will all be free agents and could be signed to reasonable deals.
Washington still has a competitive core for the future and with some money to spend, this team should be back to their competitive ways starting in 2021.