NOW we’re going to see what the Washington Nationals are really made of.
Feasting on cellar-dwelling teams such as the Miami Marlins and the Kansas City Royals, the Nats have gone from 12 games below .500 to five games above.
Now the schedule gets tougher. Except for four games with the hapless Baltimore Orioles and a three-game series with the lowly San Francisco Giants, the Nats play the big dogs between now and the end of August.
The powerhouse Dodgers, the Cincinnati Reds with the second-best pitching staff in the majors, the hard-hitting Brewers, the Rockies, the Eastern Division-leading Braves and the resurgent Pirates are all on Washington’s schedule in the next seven weeks.
Then comes September and daily battles with Eastern Division rivals the Braves, Phillies and Mets.
You have to give Washington credit. The Nats have played themselves back into contention. Now can they keep the hot streak going against the better teams?
The June and early July schedule gave the Nats a big opportunity to get back in the Eastern Division race and they took it. Riddled with injuries early, Washington needed some easy games to get their returning players back on track.
Now that everybody is healthy, we’ll see what happens.
Washington’s starting pitching has been there most of the season. It was the bullpen that fumbled away games in April and May. The addition of Johnny Venters and 42-year-old Fernando Rodney has helped shore up the pen for the time being, but can they continue to contribute in a timely manner?
Sean Doolittle has had some shaky outings in the closer role this year and has not been his usual lights-out self. He will have to return to top form to get the Nats over the hump.
Will the Nats make any moves before the July 31 trading deadline? This year, with the rule changes, that really is the deadline. No more going out and sneaking players onto the team through waivers in August.
Washington could use more bullpen help, but who couldn’t? The Braves desperately need a closer and will likely bid high for any top quality reliever out there. If there is good bullpen help out there, the Nats will have to give up a lot of good prospects to get him.
Barring injuries, it does not seem likely that Washington will make any other moves. They have plenty of infield and outfield talent and two decent catchers.
But there is one acquisition that could be possible. Madison Bumgarner will be a free agent at the end of the year, and the Giants are not likely to re-sign him.
Would the Nats be interested in bringing Bumgarner into their rotation? Would the Giants trade their talented lefthander for, say, Carter Kieboom? Although the Nats might have a hard time re-signing Bumgarner this winter, he could help the Nats down the stretch.
I point this out every year as we approach the trading deadline. Moving a player late in the season seldom works.
Ballplayers are human. Being traded on short notice means leaving a wife and kids in one city and heading off to another. That’s unsettling and some players have a hard time handling it.
Traded players don’t always contribute as much to the new club as they did with the old one, at least not in the short term, which is what the new team wants.
Except for bullpen help—and there’s not much of that out there—don’t look for Washington to make many trading deadline moves.
Feasting on bottom-feeders, the Nats have fought their way back into the playoff picture. Now the sharks are circling. Can Washington handle the big guys?
The next few weeks will tell the tale.