The Washington Nationals powered themselves to a Major League leading 17 wins off the backs of 43 Homers and a quarter of them just from Ryan Zimmerman. The Nats have gotten everything they needed from the team staples with at least three viable MVP candidates in the early sample size. Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper both have 36 hits and that only bettered by Zimmerman who leads all Majors in Batting Average, Home Runs, and RBI. But almost gone unnoticed is the supporting cast. Jayson Werth is having one of his best Aprils as a Nat with a .282 Batting Average. 7 RBI, and 2 Steals. Trea Turner came off the DL to his a very respectable .317 and a team leading 4 steals. Not to mention Anthony Rendon having a spectacular April all in one day when he went 6 for 6 with 10 RBI and 3 Home Runs. You go even deeper and find even the bench is putting in stellar efforts. Adam Lind had 9 RBI and Chris Heisey was putting in good spot defense before he went on the DL.
So it’s all systems go to the playoffs, right? Nothing’s going to stand in our way or hang over our heads. Well… it all comes down to how important Adam Eaton was. The merits of the trade have been talked over for a long time and weather it was good or bad no longer matters. Just to note Lucas Giolito has pitched for an 0-3 record in AAA Charlotte with a 6.63 ERA. Maybe Mike Rizzo knew something the all the people rating minor leaguers didn’t know. Reynaldo Lopez is pitching 2-1 with a 4.10 ERA in Charlette. Maybe the Nats didn’t give away too much for Eaton but they have already started 7 different pitchers this season and when AJ Cole takes the hill Saturday against the Phillies that will be 8 pitchers used in the first 5 weeks of the season. Maybe that’s an area where depth is important.
But Rizzo made the trade because he didn’t know he would get the bounce back out of all his stars and he had to go with the hot bat to get the Nats over the postseason hump. Also, injuries do no discriminate. They will affect and team and any player without discretion. There’s no way for Rizzo to have seen this. So, the question is, are the Nats doomed without Eaton who was brought in to get over that hump – or can good play get them there? I don’t think the question is pitching. Gio Gonzalez looks to be modestly effective and no one can doubt the efforts of Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark, and Cy Young winner Max Scherzer.
The Nats have had good batting even in down years. In 2015 the Nats missed the playoffs but they were 4th in total runs scored in the National League. Team pitching depth shouldn’t be an issue because when you get to the end you only need 3-4 good ones. The Nats simply got outplayed (probably out-coached too) in the 2016 NLDS when Wilmer Difo was the last man standing against the Dodgers. You never want to be in that position, but have they done enough to make it to the next level without Eaton? Hopefully we get to see Michael A. Taylor at the potential we saw from him in 2014/2015. Hopefully there’s no more injuries. Hopefully all the stars are aligned.
Looking back the Nats have faced a lot of cupcake teams to get the Majors leading record. Even the Mets were much maligned with injuries. But it’s going to take a lot of consistency just to stay on top. Eventually the Mets will get healthy and make a run at the top of the standings and the Nats can’t get sidetracked on how many All Stars they have or distracted by injury whoas (I got tired of hearing the Mets use the excuse of how injured they were over the weekend and don’t want to see the Nats grasping for excuses later either). The depth is there, the pitching is there, the confidence is there. All they have to do now is play the games.
Coming up is a 3 game home set against the D-backs then another road trip against the Phillies. Arizona might be the biggest competition the Nats have seen so far. They only have 1 fewer losses than the Nats and are a half game back from the Rockies in the West. The Phillies are second in the NL East and might be showing hope of salvaging the long season with a winning record. Even further ahead I’m looking forward for the Beltway series (Parkway Series) against the AL East leading Orioles. But more of that to come.