The next 14 games will tell if Washington will become sellers or buyers.
Deemed dead in the water two weeks ago, the Washington Nationals have made a miraculous recovery. Winners of 10 of their last 13, the Nationals have launched themselves from the cellar of the NL East to second, only four games behind the Mets.
The team’s turnaround was largely due to Kyle Schwarber’s heroics at the plate and the starting rotation. Basically overnight, Schwarber has become the hottest hitter on the planet, mashing 13 homers in his last 16 games, including eight in a five-game stretch. For a team that has been missing a third bat behind Trea Turner and Juan Soto, Schwarber has responded in kind.
On the season, the starting rotation has a 3.92 ERA, good for 11th in the Majors. But since the calendar flipped to June, the starting rotation has a pristine 2.83 ERA, good for second in the Majors, behind only the Mets. Keep in mind, Stephen Strasburg left his June 1 start early and has been sidelined with a neck injury since. Ace, Max Scherzer missed multiple starts due to his own injury. Despite this, the rotation has continued to flourish, with Patrick Corbin, Jon Lester, Joe Ross, and Erick Fedde leading the way.
Schwarber and the rotation will need to continue their dominance because the Nationals are about to face the gauntlet. The Nats won’t have a day off till the All-Star break and over the next 14 games they will be facing the Mets (1 game), Tampa (2 games), Dodgers (4 games), Padres (4 games), and Giants (3 games).
All five opponents have winning records, which has been the National’s kryptonite this season. They are 11-20 against teams above .500 and in order to keep their playoff hopes alive, they will need to rise up and go toe to toe with the beasts of the NL.
With the trade deadline just a month away, the upcoming stretch will make or break the Nationals season. After being engulfed in trade rumors for the majority of the season, Washington will have an opportunity to prove that they are still a powerhouse in the NL.
Tonight’s matchup with the Mets is a makeup game due to the opening series being canceled due to COVID. Erick Fedde was supposed to take the mound but an unfortunate oblique injury has placed the righty on the IL. In his stead is Paolo Espino, while Jared Eickhoff gets the nod for the Mets.
Earlier in June, the Nats split a two-game series with Tampa. When they first met, Washington had lost seven of their last 10, while the Rays were firing on all cylinders. This time around the two teams have swapped momentum. The Nats have finally found their groove, while Tampa has lost eight of their last 12. Injuries have started to pile up and they will be without ace Tyler Glasnow for the foreseeable future.
Without Glasnow, Tampa’s starting rotation is pedestrian at best. Since the 27-year old was diagnosed with a UCL injury on June 15, Tampa’s rotation has posted a 4.74 ERA, which is good for 23rd in the majors. However, the rotation has been bailed out by their elite bullpen, which ranks third in ERA (3.08), second in FIP (3.49), third in xFIP (3.78), and second in fWAR (3.5). Kyle Schwarber and company will need to jump on Tampa’s starters early to avoid the bullpen having the opportunity to close games out.
Closing out the homestead is the Dodgers and their second-ranked offense per fWAR. Regardless of their standings in the NL West, the Dodgers are still the top team in the National League. The 2019 NLDS notwithstanding, LA has had the Nationals number in years past. They met earlier this season, with the Dodgers sweeping the series and shutting the Nats out in two of the three games. However, when they first met, Washington was missing multiple key starters due to COVID including Josh Bell, Kyle Schwarber, and Brad Hand.
After a grueling homestand, Washington will fly out west to face off with the Padres. All eyes will be on superstar Fernando Tatis. Jr and understandably so. Tatis has quickly started to emerge as the face of baseball and is one of the most polarizing players in the game. One of the NL MVP favorites, the youngster is hitting .294, with 25 homers, 55 RBIs, and an OPS of 1.074.
What makes the Padres such a dangerous team is the amount of depth in the lineup behind their superstar. Manny Machado, Jake Cronenworth, Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer, Trent Grisham, and Tommy Pham have all made their presence felt this season. But it’s just not the offense. San Diego’s rotation is led by Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, and Blake Snell. The bullpen is anchored by former Nats Mark Melancon, and Craig Stammen.
Rounding out the gauntlet is the first-place San Francisco Giants. The two teams met in the middle of June splitting a four-game series that helped spark the Nationals turnaround. Washington held the Giants to three runs across four games, but their offense held them back. Since that series, the Nats have become a completely different team. Expect this series to be similar to the last time they faced off, with pitching being the determining factor.
After finally finding their rhythm, the Nats are entering sink or swim territory. This stretch will dictate the future of the franchise.