What Can the Nationals Do to Thrive in the NL East?

photo-1577892330753-c7ed46862c90.0.jpegHeading into the 2nd half of the 2021 MLB season, everyone on the Nationals has the same mindset. The first half of this season has been filled with challenges. Their record has been up and down and the team have fought through numerous injuries to get to their .473 record. Going forward, the objective is to get their key players healthy and finish the season out strong, as well as at least compete for the NL East.

The Season Thus Far

Everyone knows the Nationals are a talented team with several All-Star players. When this team is on, they can compete against anyone in the league. After the exceptional season the Nats had in 2019, this year was looked at as a possible continuation that would make the team World Series contenders again. However, what we’ve seen has been a mixed bag. More than anything else, the team is struggling against an injury bug that has been sweeping the roster.

In soccer, a popular topic of debate is fixture congestion and its negative effect on elite footballers. However, you don’t hear many people talking about the sheer volume of games a baseball player will endure throughout the average season. Washington has had their fair share of injuries like many other clubs and with proper rest and recuperation you can imagine that many of these were avoidable. At the current moment, crucial players like Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Yan Gomes, Stephen Strasburg, and several others are all battling nagging injuries.

Despite this, the Nationals have been keeping the train on the tracks and there have been some high moments as well. The Nationals beat the Rays in a 2-game series including a 16-5 win to end out June; they had a major 17-2 win over the Diamondbacks in May, an 11-4 win over the Yankees in the same month, and lots of big wins over their divisional rivals.

During the All-Star break, they also got a morale boost when slugger Juan Soto represented the team with pride during this year’s MLB Home Run Derby. He faced off against the favorite to win and the media’s favorite athlete to write about, Shohei Ohtani. Though he didn’t win the derby, Soto beat Ohtani over multiple rounds in what was arguably the highlight of the evening, even hitting 3 home runs in 3 pitches to close out the round.

baseball-446526_960_720.0.jpgHow Do The Nats Look After the All-Star Break?

After resuming the season, the Nationals currently find themselves in 4th place in the NL East and sit around #21 in the power rankings. They are 5-11 in July and likely need talent like Kyle Schwarber and Stephen Strasburg at full health to consider making a playoff run. July was certainly a rough month but the Nats have mounted a comeback in recent days.

After a horrifying 24-8 loss to the Padres, they came back and snapped a 6-game losing streak with an 8-7 victory over the Padres to close the series. They then had another big bounceback win over their divisional rivals the Marlins in an 18-1 victory. Once again, we know this team is talented and they just need to have all the right players on the field at one time and the desire to push this team forward.

The NL East

Despite all the ups and downs of this season, the Nationals are still only 5 games below the NL East leaders, the Mets. This puts the Nationals in a position to easily rise up the ranks and compete for the division. Not only are there plenty of divisional games left which they can take advantage of, but their rivals seem to be stuck in the mud.

Recently, the Mets could only claim 3 of 7 games in a series against the .383 Pirates. The Marlins have been spinning their wheels this season. The Braves should have been much better considering their lineup, and now with inconsistent pitching and Ronald Acuña, Jr. out for the season, it feels like they will gradually drop off.

Meanwhile, the Phillies are holding strong and should be the biggest competition for the Nationals going forward. For the rest of the season, the Nationals still have 11 games against the Phillies, 11 against the Mets, and 9 against the Braves left on the schedule meaning there is a lot of potential if the Nationals want to make something happen.

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