WASHINGTON D.C., August 12, 2013 — The situation is bleak. The Nationals sit 14 ½ games out of first place in the NL East, and 9 games behind the Reds for the second Wild Card spot. The proverbial wheels have fallen off the wagon. There are 45 games left on the schedule, and every reason in the world to wave the white flag of surrender.
Washington’s offense is ranked near the bottom in almost every category. The team once proclaimed to be World Series bound by everyone and their mothers is now struggling to even get to .500 with the month of August almost half over.
The Nats have many problems, but the biggest is probably that many of their starting lineup are just not producing at the same level as they were a year ago.
Wilson Ramos has been highly effective when actually playing, with an OPS+ of 122, but he has been injured for much of the year only returning right before the All-Star break. This had left the catching duties to Kurt Suzuki who is quickly turning into the stereotypical all-field no-hit catcher. It will be up to Ramos to prove that he can stay healthy to have any kind of production from the catching spot.
Shortstop Ian Desmond has greatly improved upon his fielding, but has taken a bit of a step back offensively this year. While he’s still hitting for some power and slugging .471, his biggest problem is being selective at the plate, which can be seen from his low walk total and OBP of .333.
Denard Span has not made a good first year impression at the plate. His on base percentage this year of .313 is dramatically lower than his career average of .350. Span has simply underperformed in his leadoff role, however, he has played spectacular defense in centerfield.
It is too soon to make a call on Anthony Rendon quite yet. Since being called up for good in June to replace an ineffective Danny Espinosa, Rendon has had his hot streaks and cold streaks. Despite his inconsistency at the plate, he seems to have some power and has greatly improved his defense at second base since taking over the position.
Adam LaRoche is having a below average year by most standards. He is hitting a disappointing .235/.320/.415 with just 16 home runs to this point. He is well off pace to repeat his 33 home runs and 100 RBI performance from last year.
Someone also needs to remind LaRoche to bunt down the third base line whenever he is being shifted. When you are hitting below .250 there is no such thing as a cheap hit. The move to reacquire LaRoche will be questioned all off-season, and it is looking like he will need to come through big next year to prove he was worth it.
Ryan Zimmerman is having a slightly above average year, but not for him. The Z-Man is having one of his least productive years at the plate in quite a while, although he is far from the reason the Nats are struggling. In order for the team to go on a run, however, Zimmerman will need to pick up some of the slack on the offensive side in order to turn things around.
Bryce Harper is having is having another solid season, especially as a 20-year old, and even better than last year, but has not yet lived up to the admittedly unfair expectations of the fans and the media to be an almost immediate MVP caliber player.
Jayson Werth has been one of the few bright lights on this offense, hitting .328/.401/.530 this year despite missing about 30 games due to injury. Having just won the National League Player of the Month award for July, Werth will need to continue this tear in order to keep the Nats in a conversation of which they seem to have fallen out.
There is still the smallest chance that the Nationals could get hot and go on a run for the Wild Card (forget the NL East), but the time is right now. They have to win almost every series with at least a few sweeps along the way, and yes, the Nats have to hope that the Reds and the Diamondbacks start to struggle. At this point, what do the Nationals have to lose? They have no face to save and no rear to hide.
Everyone loves a team that can fight through adversity and exceed expectations. Baseball history is full of those teams that were able to silence their critics, such as the 1914 Miracle Braves, the 1978 New York Yankees, or more recently, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, who won the World Series despite having an 83-78 record. This is the Nationals’ best chance to be one of those teams. Nats fans just hope that it is not too late.
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