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Nationals in Danger in NL East

In the spring, the Washington Nationals were the pick in the NL East. Now, they’re in danger of falling out of the race and losing out to the red-hot Mets.

Mets broadcaster, and former first baseman, Keith Hernandez proclaimed that when the Mets and Nationals meet in Citi Field for the last series of the season, “It may not matter.”

He basically said that New York will have the NL East wrapped up before that series and will be in the process of lining up its starting rotation for the Divisional Series. Hernandez might have been committed if he said this in April. Maybe even in June.

But right now, he’s not crazy to think that.

Something is wrong in Washington and it has nothing to do with the folks on Capitol Hill. The Nationals, on paper, had the roster to dominate their division. But for some reason, it just hasn’t happened.

9 August 2015:  Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer (31) stands on the mound after surrendering a solo home run to Colorado Rockies right fielder Carlos Gonzalez (5) at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. where the Colorado Rockies defeated the Washington Nationals, 6-4.

Washington has had its share of injuries with Doug Fister, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon all seeing time on the disabled list. Even with those players out at different times, the Nationals should have eventually pulled away from what is a bad division.

Bryce Harper is the leading candidate for the Most Valuable Player Award in the National League and Max Scherzer is having a nice year with a 2.44 earned run average. But he’s only 11-8. With a good month and a half and some wins (however meaningless they may be), Scherzer would be a candidate for the Cy Young Award.

Philadelphia (8-5) was awful in the first half, Miami (3-5) had a disappointing first half and went in complete sell mode and Atlanta (7-3) is rebuilding and also went in sell mode July 31. Washington is currently 18-13 against those three teams, but the Nationals should have been able to dominate those teams and they haven’t.

By comparison, the Mets are 23-11 against those same teams, 2.5 games better. New York is currently (as of Aug. 12) 2.5 games up on the Nationals. Funny how that works.

New York, who has been on fire of late by winning eight of its last 10, has a golden opportunity to greatly increase that lead. In the Mets’ next 15 games, 10 of them are against the Rockies (47-64) and the Phillies (45-69), two last place teams.

Washington will be hard-pressed to keep up. In their next 15 games, the Nationals play the Dodgers for one more, four at San Francisco, three at Colorado, then they go back home to take on Milwaukee and San Diego. They just started a 10-day West Coast road trip. It’s not crazy to think they might go 3-7 on the trip and be five or six games behind by the time the Nationals go back home.

If the Nationals can keep up, they’ll have a great chance to win the division. New York and Washington meet each other for six more games, three in Washington (Sept. 7-9) and the three in New York to end the year (Oct. 2-4). Washington has plenty of intra-divisional games: seven against the Braves, 10 with the Marlins and six more with the Phillies. The Mets also have 23 games left with those same teams.

New York probably shouldn’t even be in this position, but the Mets were able to stick around and hang in there despite an awful offense. When the trade deadline came up, General Manager Sandy Alderson addressed that problem by acquiring Yoenis Cespedes. He hasn’t provided a lot offensively, only hitting .262 without a home run, but he is a huge power threat and will hit some homers, eventually.

August 1, 2015: New York Mets Left field Yoenis Cespedes (52) [6997] returns to the dugout after striking out during the sixth inning of the Mets' 3-2 victory over the Washington Nationals at Citi Field in Flushing, NY.

That dismal offense might also receive another jolt when David Wright comes back. He is currently rehabbing in the minors. Wright did have a back injury and recovering from that can be iffy. But if he can return and somewhat resemble the old David Wright, it’ll be a plus. A 75 percent Wright is a lot better than Juan Uribe.

Washington, at the trade deadline, did make a trade. The Nationals acquired Jonathan Papelbon from the Phillies. The transaction made waves in the clubhouse and they weren’t good ones. Washington already had Drew Storen to close and he was good, converting 28-of-32 save chances. He wasn’t thrilled with the trade and even less thrilled that he is now the eighth-inning guy and it’s affected his pitching.

Since July 31, Storen has an earned run average on 9.00. Before the trade, his ERA was 1.64. Now it’s all the way up to 2.70. Sometimes it’s the trade that you don’t make it the best trade.

Before the season, the Nationals were an easy pick to win not only the National League East, but the World Series. Now, they are in danger of falling out before the season’s final weekend. If they don’t turn things around soon, it may be too late.

 

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