Well, it's the fourth week of July and there are 64 games left to play in the 2013 season. Suffice to say the Nats and their fans are a wee bit puzzled at the way the 2013 season has unfolded for the team that was "World Series or bust". They aren't quite bust, but they aren't World Series either. A few baseball media folk have compared the 2013 Washington Nationals with the 2011 Cincinnati Reds, and they wouldn't be far off. Let's take a quick flashback to the year 2010.
The Reds win 91 games with big seasons from Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Scott Rolen, Brandon Phillips, Drew Stubbs and get great production from Ramon Hernandez, Ryan Hanigan, Laynce Nix and even Orlando Cabrera. The pitching rotation is held down by veteran Bronson Arroyo and backed with Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Homer Bailey and Aaron Harang. Other starting contributions came from Travis Wood, Edinson Volquez, Sam LeCure and Matt Maloney. That team scored the most runs in the NL and was just about league average in overall pitching. The average age was 29 and it looked like they were on the up and up. They returned in 2011 with a similar lineup, replacing Cabrera for Miguel Cairo and retained the same pitching staff without having and instead getting some extra help from Travis Wood again and Dontrelle Willis. That team scored the second most runs in the NL, but the pitching wasn't enough. Strangely the 2010 Reds had a combined 4.01 ERA which was just the league average of 4.02 but the 2011 stat of 4.16 was well below the league average of 3.81.
So this is an interesting two years for the Reds, right? Why should this matter? Well the Reds basically had a deficiency that was just enough to be overlooked in 2010 by hitting better than their pitching, yet in 2011 they couldn't save the season with the second most runs in the league. The 2010 team was 91-71 and the 2011 team was 79-83. That record is interesting because that is currently what the Nats are on pace to do if they played .500 the rest of the season. The great thing about 2011 is that Walk Jocketty assessed the team issues and made some moves to improve the club. By trading Volquez and Yonder Alonso for Mat Latos, he sured up the rotation by adding another top of the rotation starter. Although the offense was solid, he brought in Ryan Ludwick. The Ludwick move helped make up for the loss of Votto for a decent portion of the season. The Reds also benefited from a rookie stepping up in Todd Frazier. Zack Cozart played well enough at SS, but Frazier was on a tear for a decent portion of the year. The bullpen got much better with Aroldis Chapman being lights out at the back end. Minor tweaks brought the team from 79 wins to 97 wins.
With the Nats looking at a .500 season, I don't necessarily see that as a step backwards. Many young players are getting a taste of what happens in the majors and that other teams will adjust to you. For a relatively young GM like Mike Rizzo, he should take some pointers from Jocketty in how to approach the deadline and free agency this winter. A shake-up move or two can't hurt the team. If there are any deals for Span or LaRoche, I think it makes sense to try and move them. These are not "core" players to the team, and given the thin odds of making the playoffs, the Nats can use this time to give Tyler Moore starts at 1B to prove himself worthy of the job. Harper can and should slide to CF for now and the Nats can decide whether to keep him there another year and look for a one year LF option or make a splash in FA for a big time guy like Choo or Ellsbury. Evaluate what the has in terms of a 4th or 5th starter in the offseason. If Taylor Jordan or Nate Karns don't look like candidates to pitch a full season at the majors, giving a minimum of 175 innings with sub 4.50 ERAs, then look into trading for a pitcher or signing one off the FA market.
What would you do the rest of the year if you were Mike Rizzo?