Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo is has his eyes set on contending during the second half of the season.
Buy or sell? That is the pivotal question the Nationals front office is mulling over. But if history is any indicator, Mike Rizzo and company have never been ones to wave the white flag. Even during the 2018 season, the Nats shipped out a few expiring contracts to cut costs instead of completely blowing it up.
Yesterday morning, Rizzo joined “The Sports Junkies”, a popular morning D.C. radio show on 106.7 The Fan. During his time on the show, the Nat’s architect explained to the hosts his goals for the second half of the season.
"“I think second half we’re gonna try and get out of the gate quick,” Rizzo said. “We have to. The trade deadline is at the end of July. We think that we’ve got a team that can compete in the National League East and we’ve showed that when we’re healthy, we’re as good as anybody. But we haven’t been healthy. We [were] getting unhealthier as we got to the break and…we crawled into the All-Star Break.”"
Despite the wheels being on the verge of coming off for the Nats, Rizzo has remained calm and reiterated his faith in his team moving forward. But is his confidence in the Nats well placed?
Washington Needs To Take A Deep Look Into The Mirror
Rizzo’s statement was understandable because after all, the Nats were red hot in the month of June going 19-9. But as he stated, a spree of injuries derailed the team’s promising turnaround.
Kyle Schwarber, the team’s hottest hitter belted 16 homers in 18 games in June. His heroic performance at the plate almost single-handily resurrected the Nationals. Unfortunately against the Dodgers, he hurt his hamstring rounding a wet first base. With the slugger in the lineup, the Nats have gone 38-33, but are 4-14 without him. The righty has yet to resume baseball activities and a timetable for his return isn’t set.
It isn’t just Schwarber that has been placed on the IL recently. Joe Ross, Alex Avila, Jordy Mercer, Kyle McGowin, and Tanner Rainey have all landed on the IL over the past few weeks. As the injuries added up, the gap between the first-place NL East Mets and Nats has widened.
Sitting at 42-47, six games back of the Mets for first in the division, the Nationals are facing an uphill battle. Unless the team gets healthy in a hurry, they will only continue to further sink. Things don’t get any easier with the San Diego Padres heading to D.C. for a three-game series to start the second half. The Nats will be looking for revenge after they blew an 8-0 to the Padres last Wednesday. In fact, the Nats haven’t won a game since.
But after the Padres, Washington’s schedule becomes increasingly easier, with matchups against the Marlins, Orioles, Phillies, Cubs, Phillies, and Braves. Not a single one of those teams has a winning record. Regardless of the easier second-half schedule, it may not be enough. In order to truly contend, the Nats will need to acquire multiple pieces.
The team needs depth in both the rotation and the bullpen, and at least two more bats. With the worst farm system in baseball, the team simply doesn’t have the pieces to acquire the necessary reinforcements. Cade Cavalli, Luis Garcia, Matt Cronin, and Jackson Rutledge are basically untouchable, making it even tougher for the Nats to work out a deal.
They could always look at acquiring expiring contracts, such as Jonathan Schoop, Adam Duvall, C.J. Cron, or Mitch Hanniger. However, it is unlikely that those types of trades would be enough to move the needle for the Nats.
The backend of the rotation is the team’s biggest problem. Jon Lester doesn’t have it anymore and the Nationals cannot afford to keep his 5.54 ERA in the rotation. The problem is that Ross and Stephen Strasburg are still on the IL. Patrick Corbin has been Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde all season long. Paolo Espino has been admirable, but he is just a placeholder. Max Scherzer cannot carry the rotation on his own and Erick Fedde has struggled since returning from the IL.
With so many holes and injuries throughout the roster, it is important to keep optimistic in order to help team morale. At the same time, the Nationals need to learn when to hold them and when to fold them.