New on Sports Illustrated: The Nationals May Have a Long Road Back to World Series Contention

September 07, 2020 at 10:01AM

In all likelihood, Washington's season is already sunk. What should be more concerning is the Nationals may not be able to easily rebound in 2021 and beyond.

The Nationals famously started their World Series campaign last year by winning just 19 of their first 50 games, which equates to a .380 winning percentage. 

Well, they're off to an even worse start this year with a 14-24 record (.368 winning percentage), and there's far less time to recover this season. In all likelihood, Washington's season is already sunk—Fangraphs places their

playoff odds at 2.1%. The team is in real danger of breaking the dubious record set by the 1998 Florida Marlins (.333 winning percentage) for the worst defense of a World Series title. And those Marlins were basically trying to lose after blowing up their championship team.

What should be more concerning is Washington may not be able to so easily rebound in 2021 and beyond.

Sure, most clubs would love to have Juan Soto and Trea Turner anchoring their lineup, especially since Turner has discovered a power stroke this season while Soto is in the middle of perhaps the best age-21 season of all time. But those two and Yan Gomes are the only batters who have lived up to expectations.

Victor Robles was moved to the leadoff spot at the start of the weekend, but his .690 OPS indicates he inherited it more than he earned it. Heralded prospect Carter Kieboom has struggled badly. Luis Garcia, who has never been a bat-first prospect, has cooled off after an initial scorching start to his big-league career. Asdrubal Cabrera, Starlin Castro, Kurt Suzuki, Howie Kendrick and Adam Eaton look like aging veterans who are unlikely to be on Washington's next contending team. The loss of Anthony Rendon looms large. With $141 million committed to the 2021 payroll already, it could be tough to immediately reload around the edges of the lineup if some of the names above don't improve.

And the rotation, which carried the team through the 2019 postseason, suddenly looks rather old and injury-prone.

Reigning World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, fresh off signing a seven-year, $245 million contract this offseason, is out for the season with carpal tunnel. Max Scherzer is finally looking mortal at age 37 with an ERA just below 4.00. He's still a force on the mound and is as good of a bet as any fireballer to age gracefully like Nolan Ryan—but he could also flame out. Patrick Corbin, who turned 31 in July, had a 5.79 ERA in the playoffs last year. Anib├íl Sanchez has turned into a pumpkin, and at 37, probably won't get another chance to rebuild himself as he has in the past.

The National League East looks set to be a dogfight for the next few years with the Braves, Phillies and maybe even the Marlins looking set up quite well (as for the Mets, well ... at least they still have Jacob deGrom). Unless postseason expansion becomes a permanent fixture, the Nationals will be hard-pressed to consistently qualify for October.

It's extremely difficult to build a multi-championship core in baseball. There hasn't been a repeat champion since the 1990s Yankees dynasty won it all in 2000. Washington won't change that trend this year, and it could be far longer before the nation's capital holds another championship parade.

Quick Hits:

  • Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo was seemingly ejected from his suite during Sunday's game by umpire Joe West. Rizzo had loudly reacted to a questionable strike call, which set off ornery-as-ever Cowboy Joe. 

This could be construed as an embarrassing incident for Washington's top executive, who wasn't wearing a mask, which West was heard using to justify Rizzo's ejection. But Rizzo looked to be alone in his suite, and West didn't care about that until his judgment was questioned. Heck, West wasn't even wearing his mask correctly after calling security to remove Rizzo.

  • The Blue Jays are now ahead of the Yankees in the playoff picture. The AL East rivals still haven't played each other this season. Both are safe bets to make the playoffs at this point, but if either prove to be particularly dominant against the other in their 10 games against each other this month, that could change. 
  • In Jacob deGrom's first start since Tom Seaver's death, he struck out 12 Phillies in seven innings while inducing 35 swings and misses—the most since at least 2008, according to MLB.com's Andrew Simon. Tom Seaver's career ERA was 2.57—deGrom's now stands at 2.58 in a far more offense-heavy environment. He could very well win his third consecutive Cy Young award this season to tie Seaver's career total. He's a worthy heir to the title of the greatest living New York Met.
  • Patrick Corbin is more of an animal lover than Randy Johnson.

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