By: Noah Wright
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
Entering the season, The Nationals seemed to be sho-ins for The NL East. Though The Braves and Phillies were getting better, they were still in their rebuild phase, even if they were nearing the end of it. Plus The Mets looked like a .500 team at best entering the season, and then there was The Marlins, who weren't gonna be close to competitive. But now that we’re nearly half way through the season. This isn’t the case. Currently, The Braves are first The NL East, and with a 3.5 game lead. The Nationals are in second place, but The Phillies are just one game behind The Nats, who are currently just barely hanging on to the second wildcard spot.
I want to first start out with why The Nats will make The Playoffs. The Nats still have a Cy Young Caliber starter in Max Scherzer, who is continuing to dominate this season with a 2.06 ERA, 1.94 FIP, .844 WHIP in 100.2 innings, and has a possibility to reach the 300 strikeout plateau. Gio Gonzalez has also been very good with a 3.01 ERA, 3.55 FIP, and 1.351 WHIP in 80.2 innings. Though he’s on the DL right now, Jeremy Hellickson has been a pleasant surprise this season. He currently has a 2.28 ERA, 3.28 FIP, and .923 WHIP in 43 and a third innings. To add on, Hellickson has a career low 1.2 BB/9 rate. The rotation holds the 3rd best ERA in the entire MLB (3.38). Their closer, Sean Doolittle has been lights out. The lefty has only given up 5 earned runs in 30.2 innings, while only walking 3, and striking out 43 batters. To help their bullpen cause, The Nats just acquired Kelvin Herrera, who’s also been dominant (1.05 ERA, 2.62 FIP, .818 WHIP .7 BB/9 in 25.2 innings). On the offensive side, The Nationals just got back Daniel Murphy, who’s been a big bat in their line-up the past few seasons. They also got back another injured cog with Adam Eaton not long ago. Third basemen Anthony Rendon has been solid this season, with a .272/.350/.450 line in 217 PA’s. Top prospect Juan Soto has arrived on the scene with a bang. The 19 year old outfielder has batted an impressive .325/.411/.602 in his first 95 PA’s. This performance at the plate is capped off with 6 home runs and 14 RBI’s. Another bat that has done well is minor league signee Mark Reynolds, who’s hit .268/.321/.535 with 6 homers and 10 RBI’s in 78 PA’s.
Now let’s go over why they won’t make The Playoffs. All-Star outfielder Bryce Harper has been underwhelming this season. So far, he has a career low .212 batting average. While his OBP/Slugging % have been ok (.351/.469), and the left handed batter has 19 home runs, his underperformance is seriously hurting The Nats’ lineup since he was supposed to be the largest contributor in it. Their biggest contributor with the bat is arguably 1B/LF Matt Adams. Adams was batting a good .275/.351/.575 (OBP and slugging % would be a career high), but that was before he hit the 10-Day with a fractured left index finger today. Another off-season signee, Howie Kendrick got off to a hot start, batting .303/.331/.474 before hitting the 60-day with a torn achilles. Catching was a big problem for The Nats’ the last season, but it’s really apparent this season. Their current catcher, Pedro Severino is batting just .190/.291/.241 in 158 PA’s (however, he has done good defensively with 4 DRS, .5 defensive WAR, and has thrown out 37% of runners trying to run on him), and injured catcher Matt Wieters has batted a low .231/.342/.385 (but the OBP would be a career high). Kendrick got off to a hot start, batting .303/.331/.474 before hitting the 60-day with a torn achilles. The bullpen has been lackluster as well. Before adding Herrera, The Nats were relying on Brandon Kintzler and Ryan Madson to deliver the 9th to Doolittle. So far, Madson has pitched to a 4.38 ERA and 1.5 WHIP in 24.2 innings, (but does have a good FIP (3.13), K/9 rate (9.5) and BB/9 rate (2.9), and Kintzler had a 4.45 ERA, and 1.482 WHIP in 28.1 innings before hitting the 10-day. The Nats also lost a big rotation piece when Stephen Strasburg was suffering from right shoulder inflammation.
Now the question is, will The Nats make The Playoffs? I think The Nationals do, but not the division unless The Braves really, really cool off, or The Nationals go on a hot streak. However, they do have plenty of time left, and enough farm to fix their catching problem, and add some more pieces that could help them go deep in the playoffs. It could be easy for players like Bryce Harper, or Trea Turner to turn their seasons around completely, and be very very good producers at the plate. If The Nats' big bats can find their grove, it's very possible they could make The Playoffs.