The Current State of the Washington Nationals | Column
After one week of the 2019 MLB season, much has already been revealed about the Washington Nationals, and very little of it is positive. One of the key issues that became clear over the course of Washington’s disappointing 82-80 postseason-less 2018 season was the faulty bullpen. From non-pitching related issues that led to the departures of Brandon Kintzler (traded to the Cubs at the deadline and accused of leaking team information to media), and Shawn Kelley (traded to the Athletics after the Nationals called him “selfish and disrespectful” for spiking his glove after giving up a hit), to the on-the-mound issues of Trevor Gott and Sammy Solis, the Nats completely restructuring their bullpen was supposed to be a bright point of the front office's offseason work. However, new relievers Kyle Barraclough, Trevor Rosenthal and Tony Sipp have fared even more poorly than their predecessors. After four games, all against divisional foes New York and Philadelphia, the Nats bullpen has a 15.61 ERA, and even blew a lead in the team’s one win over the Mets, denying new left-handed star pitcher Patrick Corbin his first win.
Other than last year, when the Nats took a step back, and the young, talented Braves claimed the division, the Nationals have taken a lack of competition in the NL East for granted. There will certainly no longer be a lack of competition any longer. The Phillies, who finished two games behind the Nats last year at 80-82, added key pieces Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson, as well as giving up multiple top prospects for Miami catcher J.T. Realmuto and signing free agent former Nationals' star in Bryce Harper. Additionally, the Mets are fully healthy, boasting 2018 Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, flamethrower Noah Syndergaard and former Mariners' stars Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano. They are complemented by electric young stars Pete Alonso (7-17 with four extra base hits in 2019), Dom Smith and Jeff McNeil. Plus, the defending division-champion Braves haven’t gotten obviously worse. Really, the only team that is sure to be below about 85 wins is the putrid Marlins.
As bad as the bullpen has been in the past, the Nats have always been able to rely on two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. Through two starts this year, Scherzer has certainly been very good, but he has not been at the “best pitcher in baseball” level Nationals' fans have been spoiled with over the last four years, and the team has lost both of his 2019 starts. The latter, an 8-2 thrashing at the hands of the new-look Phillies, went as badly as a game can possibly go for the Nationals. In Bryce Harper’s much anticipated return to Washington, the Phillies went up big and never looked back, and Harper hit a massive home run. But, worst of all for the Nationals, star shortstop Trea Turner, who nearly single handedly was the reason for the Nationals only win this season after his second home run last Sunday was a walk-off, broke a finger on his throwing hand while trying to bunt.
Many of the issues listed here could fix themselves fairly soon if all goes right—it has been only four games after all—but not this one. Turner’s loss, listed as being for an “indefinite” amount of time, is the last thing the ball club needed, especially with the next seven games against the same division opponents that have thwarted the Nats thus far in 2019. As if there absolutely had to be some way for things to get worse, backup first baseman Matt Adams, starting in that game, was hurt falling over a railing chasing a foul ball. Turner and third baseman Anthony Rendon have been the lone bright spots.
So far, with even established veterans Ryan Zimmerman, Brian Dozier and Sean Doolittle scuffling. In his absence, Wilmer Difo will see increased playing time, and the youngsters filling the void Harper left, Victor Robles and Juan Soto, will need to pick up slack. The Nationals may have started the season on the wrong foot, but, as they say about a baseball season, it’s a marathon not a sprint. The Nats have the talent and ability to compete with anyone, so all that’s left to see is if they have the managing, execution and luck to do so.
Jeremy Schooler is a sophomore studying broadcast journalism and business. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.