The Washington Nationals aren’t who we thought they were — and they certainly aren’t who they hoped to be in late August.
Washington has been a trendy pick to make a World Series run for a couple of seasons, but have yet to deliver anything of substance. This year has been particularly painful to watch, as the Nats are struggling to even stay in the race for MLB’s worst division. Despite being 8.5 games back of a Wild Card spot, Washington is just 4.5 games behind the N.L. East-leading New York Mets. The Nationals are a .500 team in the standings, but they’re easily the biggest loser this season if you take preseason expectations into account.
So what’s wrong with Washington?
The obvious answer is injuries. Former All-Star Jayson Werth has missed 71 games, Anthony Rendon, one of the runner-ups for the 2014 MVP, has missed 79 games, 2014 N.L. hit leader Denard Span has sat out 59 games, Ryan Zimmerman has been out for 49 games and starter Stephen Strasburg has missed more than a few starts while on the D.L.
The Nationals’ rotation, billed to be the deepest and toughest in baseball, has been the biggest flop. Despite adding the biggest free agent fish on the market in starter Max Scherzer, Washington’s rotation has actually declined from a combined 28.3 WAR in 2014 to a minuscule 0.4 WAR this season.
It’s not just the starters that are posting terrible WAR numbers, either. Second baseman Anthony Rendon and Werth, who posted respective WARs of 6.6 and 5.0 in 2014, are worth 0.0 and -1.2 WAR in 2015. Werth and Zimmerman, when able to play, haven’t even been able to get their OPS numbers into the .700 range. In fact, other than Harper, no player in the Nationals lineup who has played more than half of the season has an OPS of .800 or better. Even with Harper, who is having arguably the best season for a hitter in baseball, Washington features a group wRC+, a stat which measures the effectiveness of a hitter, taking park and league into account, of 94 — good for 19th in all of MLB.
Granted, it’s difficult to play good ball when you’re in and out of the lineup and your teammates are dropping like flies around you. However, it’s the unanticipated nature of the Nationals’ free-falling that makes their performance in 2015 so horrid.
Not all is lost yet, however.
This team was 48-39 at the All-Star break and has a favorable schedule ahead of them to make up the gap between themselves and the Mets before the season is officially declared a bust. After their current three-game set with the Colorado Rockies, the Nats will play three games with the Milwaukee Brewers (51-70), three games with the San Diego Padres (58-62) and three games with the Miami Marlins (49-70).
In September and early October, they will play the Marlins seven more times, the Philadelphia Phillies (46-73) six times, the Atlanta Braves (53-66) seven times and the Cincinnati Reds (51-66) once. In that stretch they’ll have only six games with non-divisional opponents with a record of .500 or better. However, even more importantly, they’ll also get two more cracks at the Mets.
That’s about as good as it can get down the stretch.
Right now, Washington needs to focus on getting a little bit better every day. If they can take care of that and manage to get hot enough to steal the division crown, or possibly a Wild Card spot, this team could still theoretically live up to the hype in the postseason.
Showing up late is always better than never arriving at all, right?