Getting shut out back to back days and twice being no hit into the 6th inning is a pretty good cause for pessimism and I don’t hold it against anyone who is a bit annoyed at the Nats right now. In spite of all this, I’m actually still pretty optimistic about the second half of the season, even if I find Davey Martinez constantly being cool and collected about it annoying . There are, in my estimation, more reasons to be optimistic than not.
Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark Aren’t this Bad
Probably the low point of this recent swoon was having to watch Gio get clubbed for 6 runs while only getting 3 outs in his most recent start. Tanner Roark has looked bad his last two turns and has an unnecessarily terrible record due to run support. Both of them were very good pitchers as recently as three weeks ago. Even with Gio being a true head case pitcher, he’s shown the ability to get his stuff together for long stretches and seems likely to do so again, while Roark’s issues have historically been fixable mechanics issues. The two of them don’t even necessarily need to return to form, they could get away with 5 competent innings per start and set up the Nats well because,,,,
The Bullpen is Actually Pretty Good
Sean Doolittle and Kelvin Herrera are both having absurdly good seasons and act as force multipliers in that they both allow for the other to be taxed less as far as usage or allow the Nats to essentially send two top tier closers out to get the last 6 outs. Ryan Madson is still really good, his overall stats only suffer because of that godawful run implosion against the Mets in April, which can be attributed to his heavy workload (it was his 4th appearance in 5 days. Brandon Kintzler is back from his overuse injury and seems likely to help the Nats lock down the middle innings. Even with recent struggles, these guys have been pretty good and have shown the talent to get out of jams. If the starting pitching can go from “abhorrently bad” to “acceptable for 5 or so innings” this bullpen can absolutely get them the rest of the way often enough.
Even more reinforcements are coming, and sooner than you might think
Jeremy Hellickson will likely come off the DL Saturday, and if he can continue his usual 5 innings of competent ball per start, the Nats will be well positioned whenever he starts. Matt Adams doesn’t have a timeframe yet but injuries like his tend to only be 3-5 weeks even with rehab assignments. Stephen Strasburg typically returns from his
regularly scheduled mid season vacation DL trips slightly improved (as he usually covers up injuries a few starts before admitting he’s hurt) and he’ll likely be back shortly after the All Star break. Matt Wieters may not be all that impressive, but his .231 batting average and .342 on base percentage are a huge step up from the Severino/Kieboom black hole that has been catching for the past 6 weeks. Look for Wieters to return within the next 2-3 weeks. Original super prospect Victor Robles is already taking practice swings in Florida, well ahead of projections. While he may not have a spot on the Nats as currently constructed (remember, this team does not want top tier talent on the major league roster until it has an everyday playing spot), he should at a minimum be a valuable September call up or an excellent addition in August , if not a contributor if another outfielder gets hurt.
Offense is Cheap and They can afford pitching
For those of you who don’t know him, J D Martinez is perhaps the best active hitter in baseball. Last year he hit an astounding 45 home runs in 119 games , which is essentially Babe Ruth level production. I bring this up because in the midst of that monster season he was traded from the Arizona Diamondbacks for prospects that can best be described as a lottery ticket and a piece of scrap paper that was fished out of the trash can (Arizona has an incredibly poorly regarded farm system). The reason that he ended up so cheap was because he was approaching free agency and because even top tier position players tend not to have much value at the trade deadline. This is because teams that would trade future value for present value tend to have pretty good position players (as shown by them winning enough to be willing to trade future value) and because in the postseason you can control when pitchers appear, giving them the ability to be sent out for the highest leverage moments, while a position player will likely only get 4 at bats in any given game. Another classic example was when those goddamn 2015 Mets got Yoenis Cespedes without giving up a top 5 prospect and he subsequently slugged them to a title. The Nats, for example, were able to acquire Howie Kendrick last year for what currently seems a small return. While we probably won’t be able to get say a JT Realmuto level catcher or a Manny Machado, there are plenty of good bats that the team could acquire at the deadline for a marginal cost. While I tend to think existing hitters will come around or be dropped from the roster when other guys get healthy(Looking at you Mark Reynolds), the recent lack of production is possibly the most fixable aspect of this team.
Pitching is admittedly often pricier because of the leverage issue, but the Nats have the farm system talent to get more if they really need it. Not necessarily Max Scherzer level players but if there is a need for a supplemental arm to fill guys out the rotation due to either injury or continued underperformance, the Nats have the assets to make it happen.
They play the Marlins 16 more times.
This team just might have the pieces to be competent and win the division. Just saying. There’s more to be optimistic about than not.