If you follow the Washington Nationals closely, you know that the Lerners, owners of the franchise, and General Manager Mike Rizzo have put together a “stars and scrubs” team for the past few years. They designed it to have the majority of the payroll tied up in elite (and marketable) players with minimal money put into depth. It is hard to say it is not working, considering that after nearly 100 games the Nationals have somewhere between three and five MVP candidates and a double-digit lead in the division. With a plethora of injuries testing the limits of that thin depth, stakeholders all over are wondering if they will be able to hold up to losses to key players. With that said, here is a look at the replaceability of key players within the Nationals organization.
Like myself, the average Washington fan likely watches 98% of Nationals games either on MASN with the beautiful and eloquent F.P. Santangelo and Bob Carpenter calling the game or at Nationals Park itself (that two percent discrepancy being those cursed Sunday nights on ESPN during which Aaron Boone and company talk about is the Strasburg Shutdown for three hours). While that is normal for any particular fan base, you can often end up somewhat stuck on certain narratives and ideas about your team. I had to opportunity to become quite attuned to this when I was able to go to Cincinnati to watch the first three games of the recent Nats-Reds series.
The All-Star festivities are over and the league is settled into a lovely break until July 14th, but there is no rest for fans, media, and team decision-makers. This week you will see plenty of think pieces on what “Team X” or “Team Y” needs to do in the second half to find themselves playing October baseball. While many are looking ahead to the end of the month and the ever-interesting trade deadline, here we will look at what the next two weeks or so have in store.
Look: I’m sick of talking about the bullpen, you are sick of reading about the bullpen, but we really don’t have a choice. The Nationals have an elite offense (even more so if they get healthy) and an elite rotation, but have been treading water for the last couple months because of a ‘pen that cannot keep runs off the board. Fortunately, the stiffest competition has a bullpen that is nearly as useless, leading to a massive lead in the division all the same. The resulting popular rhetoric has been “the Nats have time” and “why rush into a move, maybe they can figure things out before the last week of July.” I am here to challenge that notion with some thoughts on the hidden costs of the 2017 Nationals bullpen.
Ah, the 2017 All-Star weekend: when you’ll watch the likes of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge try to destroy the Marlins’ hideous statue in left center with homers before baseball fans everywhere can finally enjoy watching the game’s best players without the exhibition deciding home field advantage.
But you, wise and curious Nationals fan, want to know exactly who will be suiting up to play in front of the league’s most consistent fan base. Herein lies this week’s looming question: Which curly-w-clad gentlemen will head to Miami for the Midsummer Classic? The starters will be revealed on the evening of 2 June, with the following all but guaranteed, and thus, not altogether interesting to discuss.
On Wednesday afternoon, Max Scherzer (yet again) took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. After a bad luck hit, a couple mistakes, and a key error at first base, the Nationals found themselves on the losing end of a 2-1 decision. Immediately, panic struck #NatsTwitter as fans lamented yet another gut-wrenching loss. And why wouldn’t this be the reaction? The defeat must have pushed them about 6 games back of the Mets, whose super rotation is domina… wait a second…
*Checks National League East standings* *blinks* *shakes head*
Last year, the biggest stories with the Washington Nationals were the relative disappearance of Bryce Harper and the incredible results from the former Met and present Met killer Daniel Murphy. Today, Murphy and his infectious grin and amusing on-field screams are seemingly forgotten among the many other interesting narratives surrounding the NL East leader. Still, Murphy deserves the proper attention as he continues to showcase that he is one of baseball’s most consistent and effective hitters. In preparation of the impending series with the Mets, allow me to rave about him for a few minutes.
As the Washington Nationals’ bullpen is no longer the baseball equivalent of the RMS Titanic, now seems like a fine time to look at the bullpen roles moving forward and if there are any glaring holes that Mike Rizzo needs to address. In today’s advanced statistics era, I would rather not have to discuss set roles for the reliever. With a highly traditional manager at the helm, however, it is unavoidable that that is how this pen will be designed. Starting with the highest leverage situations, let us begin.
Anthony Rendon hates talking about himself. You don’t have to ask him, or even watch him play: Just watch this interview after his three-homer, 10-RBI afternoon on April 30th. Hear him credit his team’s pitching for the reason why he helped beat the Mets into oblivion, which was, of course, completely unrelated to him getting six hits in six trips. That performance was the talk of the league for, oh, five hours or so. Then the Mets revealed Noah Syndergaard had torn his lat in that game, and Rendon’s name headed to the sidebar. That is exactly how Rendon wants it to be: let him play his game, not talk about how well he’s doing it, and smile the entire time. Unfortunately for Anthony Rendon, it is time to start talking about Anthony Rendon. Many will argue for Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, or Joe Blanton (just making sure you’re still reading) as being the Nats’ best player. Here, I’ll make the case for Anthony Rendon in that argument, and, if nothing else, the team’s most complete and underrated player.
Welcome back to the latest in a series, in which we review the previous week in Nationals baseball and power rank the players according to their performance. This is an extremely unscientific exercise; at no point should it ever be confused with actual baseball analysis. Don’t worry, I will do my best to make sure that is obvious. Without further ado: your Washington Nationals, ranked according to power.