Washington Nationals: Despite The Team’s Struggles The NL East Is Still Up For Grabs

Juan Soto #22 of the Washington Nationals reacts with Trea Turner #7 after hitting a two-run homer in the eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on June 01, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Juan Soto #22 of the Washington Nationals reacts with Trea Turner #7 after hitting a two-run homer in the eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on June 01, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Despite their recent struggles, Washington has found itself with a rare opportunity in a wide-open NL East.

Usually, when a team is riddled with injuries and has lost 11 of their last 15, they would be dead in the water. If it wasn’t for a division filled with mediocrity this would be the case. Instead, the Washington Nationals only find themselves six back of the NL East first-place New York Mets. This is impressive when you factor in that since July 1 the Nationals starting rotation has been atrocious, combining for a 7.01 ERA and 5.39 FIP.

The NL East is by far the worst division in baseball, with each team facing its own set of inconsistencies and mounting injuries. For the Mets, both superstar Francisco Lindor and ace Jacob deGrom were just placed on the IL.

They join pitchers Carlos Carrasco, Robert Gsellman, Joey Lucchesi, Dellin Betances, Noah Syndergaard, and Sean Reid-Foley. The pitching staff had been leading the way for the Mets, but with deGrom sidelined they will be treading water.

Atlanta recently lost superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. for the season due to a torn ACL. The 22-year-old phenom was hitting .283. with 24 homers, 52 RBIs, and an OPS of .990. It will be up to Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman to help an under-performing Braves team win their fourth straight NL East title.

Miami just put two key bats on the IL in Jazz Chishom and Garret Cooper. This is a big hit to the offense, but all season long the team has been carried by the pitching staff. Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez, and Trevor Rogers have all been fantastic and are proving they are all long-term building blocks. Miami is still a couple of years away from seriously contending and they lack the firepower to take advantage of the rest of the division’s struggles.

Philadelphia has finally hit their stride, winning seven of their last ten and four straight series. They are two games back of the Mets and have a 3.5 game lead over the Nats. Zack Wheeler has turned into one of the best pitchers in baseball and leads the NL in strikeouts.  Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, and J.T. Realmuto have been carrying the offense, but they need reinforcements.

Staying The Course

Washington’s General Manager Mike Rizzo has been adamant that the Nats stay the course. Rizzo has never been one to wave the white flag and has hinted that he wants to buy at the deadline. At first, this was seen as a massive mistake by the fanbase.

Injuries to Yan Gomes, Alex Avila, Kyle Schwarber, Joe Ross, Tanner Rainey, and Stephen Strasburg have led to old veterans and prospects not yet ready, being thrust into the starting lineup. On top of that, Washington has been awful against teams with a winning record, going 20-32 against them. They are 24-17 against everyone else.

Throw in that the Nationals have the worst farm system in baseball and buying at the deadline makes no sense. But with the NL East in shambles and the Nationals still only six games back, Rizzo’s thinking is understandable.

Last night against a young Marlins team, Washington bludgeoned them from the first pitch, scoring 18 runs. This was largely due to Juan Soto and Trea Turner. Since the All-Star break,  Soto has finally found his swing, belting five homers in four games. Turner has emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate, hitting .319, with 18 homers, 46 RBIs, and an OPS of .900. Throw in Max Scherzer is still leading the way atop the rotation at the age of 37 and Washington’s superstars have lived up to their billing.

By staying the course, the Nats can make some low-cost moves for help. Think back to the Daniel Hudson trade in 2019. They traded a low-tier prospect for Hudson, whom at the time was having a good, but not great season. However, Hudson was able to take his game to the next level with a change of scenery.

Mike Rizzo has an eye for under-the-radar guys and will need to complete a few more moves of that degree in order for the Nats to catch up in the division race.

With one of the easiest second-half schedules in the division, the Nationals find themselves in a comfortable position to still catch the Mets. After two more games against the Marlins, the Nats will see Baltimore, the Phillies twice, the Cubs, and Atlanta. Of those teams, only the Phillies have a winning record.

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As long as the NL East continues to trip over itself, staying the course is understandable.