Manning: Nationals Still Seem Like The Team To Beat

WASHINGTON, DC – There is something brewing in the nation’s capital. While it’s not the subject of headlines the Washington Nationals are the team to beat this year in the National League. With a log-jam in the NL Central and what is currently a three team race in the NL West, the NL East seems to already have been decided.

Out of the gate, it was evident that this team that Mike Rizzo has craftily put together was entering its short window to bring a championship to D.C. Rizzo, who has overseen the worst to first rebuilding effort, has thrown all of his chips on the table this year. In perhaps the biggest move of this past off-season, Rizzo sent two Top 100 starting pitching prospects to the Chicago White Sox, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez for Adam Eaton.

Sadly for the Nats, Eaton, who started the year hitting .297 through 27 games and setting the table for the middle of a potent lineup, tore his ACL trying to beat out a throw to first base. Add in a bullpen in complete disarray, 28th in the league with a 4.92 ERA, and you would assume this team would be demoralized and sinking fast. Instead, on June 9th, the first place Nats are 38-21, 11.5 games ahead of the 2nd place Braves.

With a nasty starting rotation and the resurgence of some old friends, the Nationals abide. Ryan Zimmerman has been a God among men. After three years plagued by injury, and new age statistics showing a down turn in his average Exit Velocity, Zim has found health and his stroke. He leads the Majors with a .362 average and holds a National League best 17 home runs. He is crushing the ball and his teammates from Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon, and wunderkind Bryce Harper are all following suit. Not to mention Trea Turner, perhaps Rizzo’s best move as GM, who already has 21 steals.

Even without Eaton, these Nats can literally knock the cover off the ball, which is exactly what Harper did last night as his foul ball tore an unsuspecting baseball at the seams. And their rotation can toe the rubber and win against any other staff in the game. In a playoff series where you line up against reigning Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer, who was seen this week verbally abusing a baseball, Stephen Strasberg, and Gio Gonzalez, this team should instill fear league wide.

So with the Trade Deadline approaching in about a month, it is time for Rizzo to reach into his bag of tricks again. In 2018, Bryce Harper hits the open market, and the Cubs and Yankees are waiting to greet him with open arms. Though they don’t have significant organizational depth on the prospect front, the Nats can lock down the NL and perhaps the World Series with one more bullpen arm. Young Koda Glover is emerging as a potential closer and Matt Albers has pitched well. If Oliver Perez, Joe Blanton, and Shawn Kelley, can figure it out then the onus falls on Rizzo. Be creative; scour the wire and the scrap heap. See if there is someone out there who has a reliever to rent.

In baseball, window’s close quickly, and for the Nationals the time is now. Your move Mike.

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