The Washington Nationals lost four of five games before claiming a walk-off 3-2 victory against San Diego on July 23, putting General Manager Mike Rizzo in a precarious position with the trade deadline looming.
Washington Nationals’ Anthony Rendon, center, runs home to score the game-winning run on a walk-off triple by Stephen Drew as San Diego Padres catcher Derek Norris, left, looks to the field during the ninth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, July 23, 2016, in Washington. At right is Nationals’ Ben Revere (9). The Nationals won 3-2. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
The Nationals have a 4 1/2-game lead in the National League East, but just aren’t playing good ball right now. Something is missing. Bryce Harper continues to flounder in the midst of quite possibly the worst offensive stretch of his career, while Ben Revere hasn’t been anywhere close to the .300 average, top-of-the-lineup batter fans expected when he was traded for Drew Storen. And without any meaningful contribution from the oft-injured Ryan Zimmerman, the batting lineup isn’t as stout as it should be at this point.
A losing slump isn’t a death blow to the season; the Nationals endured a seven-game losing streak back in May and responded with dominance thereafter. But with the trade deadline only one week away, there are plenty of options for Rizzo to try to improve the roster. The New York Yankees have made it clear that they are shopping flamethrowing closer Aroldis Chapman. It’s going to take a pretty significant offer to land him, as the Nationals are competing with the San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs for his services. It’s almost certain the Yankees are going to ask for “the farm.” For Washington to submit the top bid, they would have to trade several blue-chip prospects, possibly shortstop Trae Turner, or young pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez.
Washington Nationals center fielder Ben Revere makes the catch on a fly ball by San Diego Padres’ Wil Myers during the sixth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, July 23, 2016, in Washington. The Nationals won 3-2. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Such decisions are very, very difficult to make, and it’s easy to understand Rizzo’s apprehension about parting with any young prospects. But this Nationals team just can’t stand pat and accept the holes in its lineup and bullpen.
It may be blasphemous to say, but this may be the first time in his tenure in D.C. that Ryan Zimmerman could be dealt with zero noise from the fans. Zimmerman’s struggles are a hard pill to swallow, but something has to be done, and fast. Manager Dusty Baker has done a great job, and doesn’t have any loyalty to Zimmerman. Having to play Zimmerman at first base, where production is paramount, is a huge issue—especially when Harper is struggling as well. This would be the best time to pick up a power bat such as Charlie Blackmon or Carlos Gonzales from the Colorado Rockies, or Todd Frazier of the Chicago White Sox.
Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker (12) looks on from the dugout before a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Thursday, July 21, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Luckily, Washington probably does not need to make any additions to the bench. As most teams try to find a spark, the Nationals have gotten tremendous contributions from their backups throughout the season. Stephen Drew has been amazing this season with seven home runs and numerous clutch at-bats, such as a walk-off double in the 3-2 win over the Padres. Chris Heisley, Clint Robinson and Michael Taylor have done yeoman’s work in a precarious and unglorified role. As injuries will eventually pile up, having a solid bench with capable pinch hitters has been paramount for the ballclub. Team success isn’t just about the stars, it’s about all of the players on the 40-man roster doing their job to the best of their abilities. The bench will have to continue to contribute mightily until reinforcements show up.