With the conclusion of the World Series, the offseason is officially here. Although 2016 ended in disappointment for the Nationals, the team doesn’t lose a lot heading into 2017 and figures to once again be in the mix for the 2017 World Series. Like most teams, the Nationals have some work to do around the edges, like solidifying a bullpen that loses a few arms and replacing some of the bench players. But the big moves for the Nationals will be dictated by their answer to the following four crucial questions.
As I watched Wilson Ramos land awkwardly and crumple to the ground pointing at his knee Monday night, a lot was going through my mind. I was mad that the Nationals had to play in the sloppy conditions in DC that night. I was frustrated with Dusty Baker for not giving Ramos more time off. I cursed the baseball gods who clearly had a hand in sending first Stephen Strasburg then Daniel Murphy then Bryce Harper and now Ramos to the bench with injuries. I wondered how many people weren’t watching the game because they were doing something much more important like watching the presidential debate. I hated the Diamondbacks and their stupid jerseys. I missed Jose Fernandez, because anything related to baseball makes me miss Jose Fernandez this week. But most of all, in the midst of all that emotion, I feared what this injury might do to ruin what has been an amazing season of baseball in DC.
The Nationals have a problem, they have a black hole at first base. I mean that figuratively of course; the Nationals have gotten the least offensive production out of first base in all of baseball. There may be a hole in the space time continuum at first, though, because Ryan Zimmerman has gone missing this season. Zimmerman’s .213/.269/.365 batting is far from acceptable from a first baseman. In fact, it makes him the worst offensive first baseman in all of baseball. He might as well have been pulled into The Upside Down.
With a playoff berth looking surer by the day, the Washington Nationals must look to October. The franchise’s playoff history is far from sterling, but what about this year’s team? Could they be the ones to break through and bring DC its first baseball title since 1924? One easy way to figure it out is by looking at how the past few champions have made their way to destiny.
No jinx, but the Nationals are inching closer to officially locking up a playoff spot. The sizable lead the team owns in the NL East allows the Nationals to be smart about playing time down the stretch. Joe Ross needs time to build up arm strength? Let him get as many rehab starts as possible. Stephen Strasburg isn’t 100%? Skip one more start just to be safe. The relief pitchers, though, still have something to play for: a spot on the playoff roster.
Trea Turner has taken the big leagues by storm. Coming into Tuesday night’s game against the Phillies, Turner was hitting .341/.361/.538 with 17 stolen bases before tacking on two more hits and a stolen base. Over those 42 games, he’s already accumulated 2.1 WAR, according to Fangraphs. It’s obviously early in Turner’s career, but those early returns suggest that Turner is set for a long career in the big leagues.
In a move to bolster the bullpen and fry spell checks across the DC Metro area, the Nationals traded for the Athletics’ Marc “Scrabble” Rzepczynski. (Control-C, Control-V.) Rzepczynski gives Dusty Baker another left-handed reliever in the pen, something the team was hurting for with Sammy Solis on the DL and Oliver Perez battling nagging injuries and a bout of ineffectiveness. To acquire Rzepczynski, Mike Rizzo had to trade away prospect Max Schrock and send Reynaldo Lopez back to the minors to make room.
Jayson Werth’s record-setting on-base streak came to an end over the weekend. He set the Nationals’ team record, surpassing Ryan Zimmerman, and tied the franchise record of 46 games, set by Expo Rusty Staub. After Werth’s slow start to the year, the streak served as a reminder of the impact Werth can still have on this team.
As every Nationals fan knows, some days the team gets Good Gio and some days it’s Bad Gio on the mound. In Gonzalez’s 23 starts coming into Tuesday’s game, he’s actually allowed three or fewer runs 15 times. That’s not to say he hasn’t had a couple of clunkers, though, as he’s had three starts of allowing over five runs. Those big blow ups have resulted in a disappointing ERA of 4.24 and frayed the nerves of Nats fans.
Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are two of the top pitchers in all of baseball. Thanks to his ability to induce soft contact, Tanner Roark has solidified his hold on the #3 spot in the rotaion. With Joe Ross still on the DL, the question then becomes, can the Nationals rely on Gio Gonzalez down the stretch?
Andrew laid out a solid case for why Trea Turner could live up to the lofty expectations Nationals’ fans have set for him. Everyone is certainly pulling for him to be the star he has looked like so far this season. But baseball is hard, especially for rookies. The history of the league is littered with rookies who made big impacts right off the bat, only to come crashing back to earth after the league made a few adjustments. The honeymoon phase is starting to wind down on Turner, and he’s going to have to prove he can adjust to the league’s approach to him.