In a pretty eventful week in Natstown, the team had to endure a myriad of questions and deliver the answers. On Aug. 13, General Manager Mike Rizzo released former closer and known malcontent Jonathan Papelbon to the silent cheers of most Nationals fans. After acquiring a new closer, Mark Melancon, at the trade deadline, there was really no need for the aging pitcher to stay on the roster. This move was panned by fans as soon as it was announced one year ago, and the fans got this one right. This was a total failure from the get go.
Washington Nationals’ Brian Goodwin runs to first base for his first major league hit during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians at Nationals Park, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016, in Washington. Nationals won 7-4. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
“It was a baseball decision,” Rizzo said Saturday afternoon “A roster move needed to be made when we needed a fifth starter for the first time in a couple weeks. We went with what we felt was our best 25 players, which was our best seven bullpen players. The business of baseball is you’ve got to cut a really good player, a really good veteran, a really good teammate like Jonathan Papelbon.”
Now we all know that those words were most likely “PC speak” coming from the general manager. Rizzo would never go to the interview podium and admit that the move just didn’t pan out and that’s OK… it happens. Luckily for him, the team and its fans, Washington was able to overcome all of the issues that were caused by the transaction and continue to flourish.
And speaking of flourishing, the top of the lineup has become what we all thought they could be: place-setters for the big bats in the middle of the order. Rookie Trae Turner has just been outstanding, taking over at leadoff for Ben Revere, who himself has seemed to finally wake up, hitting at a .286 clip so far in the month of August. “Turner the Burner” may be the fastest player in baseball. With five triples, including two in Saturday’s win against Atlanta, and 10 stolen bases, he causes fits on the base paths. With Turner, Revere and a rejuvenated Jayson Werth leading the way, the team has moved up to ninth in the league in runs scored.
Washington Nationals’ Trea Turner dives back to first base as Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) waits for the throw from starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz on the pick-off attempt during the third inning of a baseball game at Nationals Park, Friday, Aug. 12, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Everything isn’t roses with the ball club right now, though. Stephen Strasburg hasn’t been sharp at all in his last two starts, not making it out of the fifth inning in either start, giving up a total of 10 runs. With Joe Ross still out for the foreseeable future and not having a proven fifth starter because of that, it is paramount that Strasburg get back to the form we all saw during the first half of the season.
With such a big divisional lead, the team can play around with the roster and rotation. Rookie Reynaldo Lopez earned his first major league victory after three starts on Saturday so maybe he could be the guy to hold the fort down until Ross returns. While Bryce Harper has been out with his neck strain, another rookie Brian Goodwin played a lot in his absence and has shown flashes of the talent the team saw when he was a first round draft pick. Harper returns on Sunday and, with a much needed break, his production could catapult this team to a level we haven’t seen in D.C. With 20 consecutive games to play without a day off, the August heat may take a toll, but team manager Dusty Baker has seen it all and knows how to navigate his club through these dog days. Only time will tell if the team can continue to flourish while simultaneously improving on a daily basis.
Dion J. Johnson is editor-in-chief of the news aggregation site Champagne in The Locker Room.