MLB's July 31 trade deadline will arrive faster than you can say "pennant race."
And the Washington Nationals should be in the thick of the chase. The Nationals currently own the best record in the National League at 52-36, and have a three-and-a-half-game lead over the second place Atlanta Braves in the NL East.
But will the Nationals attempt to improve their roster with a trade at the deadline? And what other roster moves or possible injuries could reshape the team by then?
Here is what manager Davey Johnson's lineup and starting rotation will look like on August 1.
On August 1, Steve Lombardozzi will be playing second base for the Washington Nationals.
Lombardozzi has been playing a lot of left field for the Washington Nationals this season, but he is a natural middle infielder. In fact, Steve played second base in 421 of his 442 career minor league games. He had a .986 fielding percentage in 1,957 total chances as a second baseman in the minors. At this point in his career, he has played 13 games at that position with the Nationals, with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in 46 total chances, with 23 assists and one double play.
At the plate, Steve Lombardozzi may finally be the answer to the Nationals' search for a lead-off hitter. Lombardozzi is hitting .267 with a .324 OBP in 202 at-bats. He has one home run and 12 doubles to go with 11 runs batted in.
But a closer look at the statistics shows why Lombardozzi is the answer at the top of the order. Steve has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.67 and a balls in-play percentage of 80 percent. Both of these numbers are better than those of other possible options at the lead-off spot, including Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa. These numbers show that Steve Lombardozzi is a true contact hitter, and is therefore best suited for the lead-off role.
The All-Star center fielder is perfect for the second spot in the batting order.
Bryce Harper has a .346 OBP and a .797 OPS while hitting .273 in 264 at-bats with 29 walks.
And when he gets on base, Harper is a terror. So far this season he has stolen 11 out of 14 bases. His aggression on the base paths continues to keep opposing fielders off balance.
But Bryce Harper also has the power to be a run producer and not just a table setter. He has eight home runs and 26 RBI to go along with 15 doubles and five triples.
Defensively, Harper anchors a strong outfield. As a center fielder, Harper has only two errors in 89 total chances, giving him a .978 fielding percentage.
Zimmerman has a .968 fielding percentage in 189 total chances with 136 assists and 14 double plays.
But Ryan is finally heating up at the plate as well. In his last 10 games, he is 13 of 38 with four home runs and 8 RBI.
This recent hot streak has lifted his season statistics. After missing 13 games earlier in the season and then struggling at the plate, Zimmerman is now hitting .258 in 295 at-bats through 73 games played. He has 10 home runs and 43 RBI to go with 18 doubles and 124 total bases.
Ryan Zimmerman is finally hitting like the Nationals' No. 3 hitter.
The most feared hitter in any lineup should bat clean-up. For the Washington Nationals, that honor goes to Michael Morse.
Last season, Morse received more than 500 at-bats for the first time in his major league career, and the "Beast" was unleashed. Michael batted .303 while slugging .550 with a .910 OPS. Morse hit 31 home runs and drove in 95 while racking up 287 total bases.
This year, Morse did not make his season debut until June 2 against Atlanta, but he is already rounding into form. Through 37 games played, Morse is hitting .291 and slugging .417 in 139 at-bats. He has four home runs and 18 RBI with 63 total bases. But in 2011, Michael was a slow starter, so his power numbers will pick up as the season wears on.
In the field, Michael Morse has shown he's a capable left fielder, although he's seen limited action in left so far this season. In his career, Morse has a .991 fielding percentage on 115 total chances in left field, with five assists and two double plays.
Adam LaRoche has played like an All-Star this season, even though he was left off the roster for the Mid-Summer Classic. And he provides Michael Morse with some excellent protection in this lineup.
In 295 at-bats, LaRoche is hitting .258 with a .337 OBP and a .825 OPS. He has 15 home runs and 53 RBI. Adam also has 21 doubles and 144 total bases, to go with 39 walks and five intentional walks.
In the field, Adam LaRoche continues to show why the Nationals signed him as a free agent two years ago to replace Adam Dunn. So far this season, LaRoche has only five errors in 706 total chances, good enough for a .993 fielding percentage. He also has 59 assists and 54 double plays.
Before going down with that wrist injury on May 6, Jayson was having a good season. He was hitting .276 in 98 at-bats with a .372 OBP and a .810 OPS. He also had three home runs and 12 RBI.
Jayson's presence makes this a formidable lineup, as Johnson can now send up five consecutive hitters with legitimate power. And once Jayson gets on base, he is a smart and opportunistic base runner. This year, Werth stole all three bases he attempted. And over his entire career, he is successful 88 percent of the time.
In the outfield, Werth gives the Nationals a good defensive right fielder. For the season, Werth has a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in 53 total chances with one assist and one double play. For his career as a right fielder, Werth has a .987 fielding percentage in 1,366 total chances, with 48 assists and 14 double plays.
Normally the Nationals' starting second baseman, Danny Espinosa has moved to short stop to replace Ian Desmond, who is nursing an oblique strain. Desmond was scratched for the third straight game on Tuesday night in Washington against the New York Mets, although the disabled list is said to not be a possibility.
Expect this injury to intermittently sideline Ian Desmond through August 1 and beyond.
Danny Espinosa is actually a natural short stop, despite playing second base for the Nats. In the minor leagues, he played short for 259 of 266 games. Danny's a pretty good fielder at that position,too. In 1,182 total chances at short stop in the minors, Episnosa had a .963 fielding percentage with 735 assists and 141 double plays.
At the plate, Espinosa has finally turned it around, and reveals the depth of the Nationals lineup by dropping to the seventh spot in the order. Danny Espinosa is now batting .237 in 317 at-bats.
He has seven home runs and 25 RBI to go with 22 doubles. Danny's 27 walks have contributed to his .309 OBP and .694 OPS. He also has 10 stolen bases in 14 attempts. And he has finally begun to cut back on his strikeouts, as his 99 Ks now rank him third in the NL and sixth in MLB. In mid-June, Espinosa was first in the NL and second in MLB in strikeouts.
Danny Espinosa has righted the ship as a switch-hitter as well. As a right-handed hitter, Espinosa is hitting .297 in 91 at-bats with a .385 OBP and a .868 OPS. And as a left-handed hitter, Espinosa has raised his average to .212 in 226 at-bats, with a .277 OBP and a .622 OPS. Despite his earlier struggles, most of Danny's power numbers have come from the left side of the plate, with five of his seven home runs and 16 of his 25 RBI coming as a left-handed hitter.
Once an afterthought to this organization, Jesus Flores has suddenly emerged as one of the most valuable players on the team.
Flores stepped into the starting role when Wilson Ramos injured his ACL on May 12 and was lost for the year, and it has been a seamless transition. Through 52 games behind the plate, Jesus has a .994 fielding percentage in 483 total chances with 29 assists, three double plays, and only three passed balls.
At the plate, Flores is a solid hitter who sets up the surprisingly dangerous batsmen comprising the Nationals' starting rotation. In 184 at-bats so far this season, Flores is hitting .234 with three home runs, 17 RBI and 13 runs scored. He also has 10 doubles and 64 total bases.
Davey Johnson altered the order of his starting rotation after the All-Star break to give his pitchers some much needed rest. And the pitcher who took the mound for the first game of the second half of the season was none other than Jordan Zimmermann.
Jordan is quietly putting together the best season of his young career, and actually has the lowest ERA on the staff at 2.48. Zimmermann is now 6-6 in 18 starts, with a run support average of 5.80, 25th lowest in the NL. He has 80 strikeouts and only 23 walks in 116.1 innings pitched, with a .243 batting average against and a 1.11 WHIP. Zimmermann's strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.48 is 14th best in the National League.
And Jordan is a pretty good hitter, too. In 33 at-bats this season, Jordan Zimmermann has eight hits with two doubles, one home run and three RBI.
Gonzalez is now 12-4 in 18 starts with a 2.93 ERA. He has 127 strikeouts and only 42 walks in 107.2 innings pitched. Gio has a 1.10 WHIP, and a paltry .195 opposing batting average. That mark is fifth best in the National League among starters.
Through 18 starts, Stephen is 10-4 with a 2.66 ERA. Strasburg has an NL-best 135 strike outs in 105.0 innings pitches while walking only 29. He has a .226 average against and a 1.10 WHIP.
Stephen was already selected to the All-Star Team, and if he keeps pitching like this, he'll wind up in the NL Cy Young conversation.
But Stephen will probably be shut down by the Washington Nationals, to protect his right UCL as he recovers fully from Tommy John surgery. He can still be a weapon for the Nationals, however, during September and beyond. In 26 at-bats, Stephen is hitting .385 with 10 hits, four doubles, one home run and four RBI. Strasburg has an amazing .448 OBP and 1.102 OPS.
When Davey Johnson is forced to shut Stephen Strasburg down as a pitcher, he can always start him up as a pinch hitter.
Edwin Jackson was signed by the Nationals in the offseason, and has been a workhorse for this staff.
Jackson lasts approximately 6.1 innings per every start, second best on the staff. He also has the only complete game by a Nationals starter.
Edwin is currently 5-5 with a 3.89 ERA, and suffers from the 19th-lowest run support average in the NL at 5.67. He has a .232 average against with a 1.16 WHIP.
Jackson has been dominant at times yet plagued by his inconsistency, but he will be called upon to help carry the load after Stephen Strasburg is shut down. His playoff experience could be useful, as well.
Ross Detwiler is still standing. And he's still pitching in the Washington Nationals starting rotation.
This season Detwiler has shown remarkable resiliency and perseverance. He began the season as the surprise fifth member of the rotation, replacing John Lannan. After struggling as a starting pitcher, Detwiler was replaced in the rotation by Chien-Ming Wang. That experiment failed miserably, however, and Detwiler soon regained his starting job from the Taiwanese right hander after routinely relieving Wang when he struggled.
As the trade deadline approaches, more drama has ensued. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo insists that the Nationals are looking long-term, and won't trade for a one-year rental. But in the short-term, the Nats have lined up John Lannan to start one game in Saturday's doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves, and possibly more.
But thanks in part to Ross Detwiler, John Lannan may not stay in the rotation very long. Detwiler has impressed Davey Johnson with his recent play, and Tuesday's performance against the Mets in a classic game certainly helped his case. Ross pitched seven shutout innings, giving up only five hits while striking out four and walking none. Detwiler is now 4-3 with a 3.43 ERA in 12 starts.