The Washington Nationals currently sit at 60-61, nine games behind the Atlanta Braves for first place in the NL East and seven games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the second wildcard. A team that was chosen as pre-season favorites to win the World Series is on the cusp of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Washington’s offense is just starting to show why they were pre-season favorites but it might be too late. The team dug themselves too deep into a hole and waited too long. Washington is one of the most disappointing teams this season due to a number of factors.
While injuries are a constant in professional sports, the number of injuries this season has really stymied the team.
Daniel Murphy, Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor, Matt Wieters, Ryan Madson, Koda Glover, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Howie Kendrick, Sean Doolittle and Kelvin Herrera landed on the DL at some point during the season. Washington started the season without Adam Eaton and Daniel Murphy who were still recovering from very serious injuries. The front office opted to not sign replacement bats in the off-season even though they knew that the two might not be ready for the start of the regular season. One positive from all of these injuries, was the introduction of Juan Soto. Injuries led the way for Juan Soto to prove himself to the world. Unfortunately, at the same time, it allowed for the newly emerging Braves and Phillies to take over the division.
The Pitching Staff
Washington’s pitching was doomed before the season even began. Washington’s front office decided to not sign a fifth started and instead use AJ Cole. Cole was traded within the first month of the season. Jake Arrieta was a free agent and many people believed he would end up on the Nationals. This was because Arrieta’s agent is Scott Boras, and Boras has many clients on the Nationals such as Harper and Strasburg. Instead, he signed a contract with the Phillies and has them on the verge of their first playoff appearance since 2011. The Nationals believed that the pitching rotation was perfect and made no changes from the previous season.
Stephen Strasburg landed on the DL in what has become a seasonal occurrence. Gio Gonzalez started the season where he left off in 2017, dominating opposing hitters. Unfortunately, Gio fell off and has become a weak point in the rotation. Washington brought in Tommy Milone and Jeremy Hellickson to fill in for Strasburg and Cole respectively. Hellickson and Milone have been hit or miss, but have been more successful than the current Gio.
Max Scherzer is on the verge of winning his third straight Cy Young and maybe his first MVP award. He is 15-5, with 227 strikeouts, a .88 WHIP, and a 2.19 ERA. Scherzer is first in the NL in strikeouts, WHIP and wins, and second in ERA behind Jacob deGrom of the Mets. Despite Scherzer’s stellar numbers, even he alone cannot keep the pitching staff afloat.
Tanner Roark had a disastrous first half as he lost twelve games and had a 4.87 era. Since the break, he has gone 4-0 with a 1.21 era. Opposing hitters are hitting .213 against the righty. Roark has brought stability to the rotation behind Scherzer, but it might be too late.
Since the starting rotation has fallen apart, the bullpen has been asked to carry the burden, This has led to the bullpen being overtaxed and many of them have also landed on the DL. Mike Rizzo decided to trade Brandon Kintzler and Shawn Kelley to improve clubhouse chemistry. He believed the bullpen was deep enough to withstand his flurry of trades. Instead, Kelvin Herrera and Ryan Madson would put go on the DL in a span of two weeks.
Koda Glover returned to the bullpen after being hurt for more than a year. The Nationals Manager, Dave Martinez was then forced to rely heavily on the young reliever. Koda Glover made three appearances in five games including two in a row. While this is normal for many relievers, Glover does not have the stamina yet to do so. Instead, Glover gave up the game losing home run in the bottom of the ninth to the Cardinals Paul DeJong. While hindsight is 50/50, Rizzo lost his gamble. Unless the Nationals can have a drastic turnaround, the season is likely over.
Feature Image from USA Today FTW.