A nine-and-a-half game divisional lead and an offensive explosion around the All-star break notwithstanding, the Washington Nationals have some deep issues to address before there can be any legitimate hopes for an extended October run.

Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker sits in the dugout in the third inning of the team’s baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Saturday, July 15, 2017, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

  1. What will they do with this bullpen and will there be help on the way?

The day of reckoning for Nationals fans is July 31, the non-waiver trade deadline.  By that day, most teams should know where they lie in regards to being “buyers” or “sellers.” With so many divisional races virtually over at this point, that may end up proving a good thing for General Manager Mike Rizzo and Nationals fans.  The Nationals are rumored to have had interest in a wide range of relievers, including the Royals’ Kelvin Herrera, the White Sox’s David Robertson, the Padres’ Brad Hand, and the Phillies’ Pat Neshek, all of whom could help what is statistically the worst bullpen in the National League.  Will the team trade one or more of their blue chip prospects to acquire the help needed? Unfortunately for the prospects, Washington may have to do just that, but that’s the price of doing business. In two weeks, the bullpen should look vastly different, especially on the back-end.

  1. Will the “Big Four” continue to rake at this rate?

Washington’s Big Four (Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon) have hit so well, it seems as if there is no reason to suggest that the quartet could slow down at any point.  Harper has four homers in his last three ballgames, Rendon has actually played himself into MVP consideration after a slow April with a .315/.420/.582 slashline along with 18 bombs while Murphy and Zimmerman are first and fourth in the league in batting average—just amazing.  Still, it would be unfair to suggest that all four men could keep up this torrid pace.  Hopefully with the return of injured starters Jayson Werth, Trae Turner and Michael Taylor the pressure to produce every at-bat would not be as much as it seems to be at this moment.

Washington Nationals’ Anthony Rendon, center, celebrates with Ryan Zimmerman (11) and Daniel Murphy (20) after hitting a grand slam off Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Blake Wood during the seventh inning of a baseball game, Saturday, July 15, 2017, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

  1. Will injuries be the Nationals’ eventual undoing?

Injuries are part of professional sports but, goodness, the Nats seem to have had their fair share of major injuries this season.  After losing Adam Eaton for the season Saturday, the team learned that starter Joe Ross will need Tommy John surgery and will be out for the remainder of the season.  This is a huge blow to the staff, which is already thin. Now team manager Dusty Baker will have to find a reliable fifth starter within the ranks.  Injuries have plagued the aforementioned Werth, Turner and Taylor and even bench spark plug Stephen Drew for considerable portions of the first half.  Nursing these players to health should be the No. 1 priority heading into the playoffs as they will need to contribute mightily if the team expects to make any October noise.


Dion Johnson

Special to the AFRO