As of August 30th, the Washington Nationals sit just three games above .500 — 5.5 games back of the New York Mets in the NL East and 10 games out of the Wild Card spot. That’s a pretty large gap from what type of season they were predicted to have.
Experts predicted them to compete for the World Series. The NL East was supposed to be wrapped up since July. Heck, pundits even said they could be the first team since 2011 to win 100 games. Now they need an incredible late season run just to compete with the Mets.
What’s happened for the Nationals’ season to turn out so bad? They started the season off poorly, rebounded in May and June to take the division lead, but have gone on multiple skids of late.
Let’s start with the pitching staff. Earlier in the season, Max Scherzer looked like a Cy Young candidate, compiling a low ERA and a no-hitter to boot. But as of late, he’s played like anything other than a Cy Young candidate, sitting at a 6.86 ERA in the month or August. Stephen Strasburg has gone the opposite route of Scherzer, starting off horribly with multiple DL stints before a 3-1 August and an ERA under 2.00 for the month. Doug Fister and Gio Gonzales haven’t done much to make a difference either.
Drew Storen started the season converting on his first 27 of 28 save attempts. That didn’t stop the Nationals from trading for closer Jonathan Papelbon and demoting Storen to set up man, the third time in his career he has been demoted. After not giving up a run during the month of July, Storen has a 10.24 ERA during August.
Injuries are a giant part of the Nats problems as well. Jason Werth, Denard Span, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon have all spent time on the DL. But while Bryce Harper is having a MVP-esque year, and Yunel Escobar is a pleasant surprise for them, many of their other hitters are well below their 2014 production.
Jason Werth is hitting .199 after his .292 average in 2014 — complemented by 16 homeruns and 82 RBIs. Ian Desmond is 40 points below his average last year and their projected WAR (wins above replacement) are each five points below last season.
The Nationals’ two playoff appearances have been a disappointment. In 2012 and 2014 they won the NL East but lost each series in which they had home field advantage. This season seems to be a type of microcosm of their the 2014 playoffs against the Giants. The pitching was solid but they never put up more than two runs in a four-game series to the eventual World Series champions.
Washington is finally healthy coming down the stretch and had won five out of seven before falling to the San Diego Padres. It will take some type of run to compete with New York for the division, but they certainly have the talent to do it. Can they play like it? That’s another question entirely.