Nationals Notebook: Season-defining stretch ahead

The Washington Nationals have less than two weeks to decide if the team that is 43-49 and six games back in the NL East should be buyers or sellers at the 2021 trading deadline.

For a team that’s been a contender during every full season since 2012, the thought of parting with players to build the farm system that’s been depleted due to previous pennant runs is rather tempting.

One needs a clear head and a simplified view of the team to make the best decision. And right now, there is nothing clear about this team after a weekend where anything that could’ve happened, did happen.

Two losses in three games to the San Diego Padres have the club continuing to reel — they’re on a 3-11 slide. The good news? They’re done playing against the dominant teams from California for the rest of the season.

But Stephen Strasburg’s return timetable has been backed up … again. Since winning World Series MVP honors in 2019, the right-hander has tossed just 26.2 innings a season-and-a-half into his seven-year contract.

Third baseman Starlin Castro entered the All Star break on a hot streak at the plate and lands on the Administrative Leave List due to domestic violence allegations. Friday night, the team allowed 24 runs in their loss to San Diego, and then Saturday’s game with the Padres was postponed due to shots fired outside the ballpark.

Not the easiest environment to evaluate what needs to be done at the deadline. This week they face a pair of last place teams in the Miami Marlins and Baltimore Orioles.

To become a buyer next week, conventional wisdom says the Nats need to win four or five of the six games. But nothing about this year is conventional.

Digesting the Division: The New York Mets (48-42) remain the best of the bunch after dropping two of three against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Philadelphia Phillies (47-45) have won five of six and plays the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves this week while Atlanta (45-47) plays the red-hot Padres before visiting the Phillies. The Nationals (43-49) need to finish 43-27 to reach 86 wins (the Mets’ current pace). Miami (40-53) is safe and secure in last place.

O’s Woes: The Birds began the weekend the way they entered the All Star break with a 9-2 loss against the Kansas City Royals. But wins Saturday and Sunday lift the club to 30-62 (53-win pace). Matt Harvey scattered three hits over six scoreless innings in the series finale to end a personal nine-game losing streak. And Trey Mancini came oh-so-close to winning the Home Run Derby.

Say Isn’t That? Former Nationals outfielder Michael A. Taylor hit 1-for-8 while walking three times and scoring twice against the O’s for Kansas City. He’s batting .245 on the season which would be the third-best of his career. Adam Eaton has landed with the Los Angeles Angels, hitting 2-for-4 with a run in his debut Friday (followed up by 0-for-4 over the last two days). Wilmer Difo went 5-for-10 over the weekend for Pittsburgh and is now hitting a career-best .292. Wil Crowe allowed four runs on 5.1 innings pitched against the Mets in his lone start. And Sean Doolittle lost Friday’s game for the Cincinnati Reds before tossing a scoreless inning Sunday

Last Week’s Heroes: Juan Soto began his run at the All Star Game’s Home Run Derby where he eliminated Shohei Ohtani in the first round, and then hit .538 with 3 homers and 6 RBI over the weekend. Josh Harrison batted .538 as well while Trea Turner hit .300 and tied Soto for the team lead in runs scored with five. And Alcides Escobar homered while also delivering a walk-off single Sunday to help keep the team from being swept.

Last Week’s Humbled: You allow 41 runs over three-game series, plenty of pitchers are going to show up here. We start with the starters: Erick Fedde allowed 6 runs over 1.1 innings Friday, Patrick Corbin coughed up 6 more over 5.1 innings Saturday, and Max Scherzer surrendered 4 runs over seven innings Sunday. Multiple relievers posted double-digit ERA’s for the series, ranging from Paolo Espino to Kyle Finnegan.

Game to Watch: Friday, the Nationals head up I-95 to visit Baltimore. Pitching against the Orioles in the series opener is Max Scherzer who is looking to shake off a couple shaky outings. The O’s counter with Matt Harvey who is coming off his first win since May 1.

Game to Miss: Tuesday, the Nats face last-place Miami. The NBA Finals reaches Game Six with a potential coronation in Milwaukee. Dial up a little John Tesh for old time’s sake and catch the Bucks and Suns.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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