On the heels of a weekend sweep at the hands of the red hot Los Angeles Dodgers, the Washington Nationals are in trouble. Sitting at 48-50, with a minus-24 run differential, the preseason World Series favorites are equidistant (11 games) from the top wild card spot and the last place Miami Marlins.
With 64 games to go, it's decision time in Washington. Under normal circumstances, logic would point to selling at the trade deadline. After all, according to ESPN's playoff odds, the team only has an 11.5 percent chance to qualify for the postseason.
Yet, logic doesn't work with the 2013 Nationals.
There's simply too much talent to give up now. After dominating the National League for six months last year, the team is finding ways to lose on a nightly basis, overshadowing the pedigree in the dugout and on the field.
After analyzing the state of the team and the National League, the decision makers in D.C. should be looking to add pieces for a stretch run, not subtract in the name of tomorrow.
Here are five reasons why the Nats, despite the ugly numbers, should be buyers at the upcoming trade deadline.
As pointed out by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports in a column discussing the Philadelphia Phillies, the top of the National League East has been headlined by a mediocre team for the majority of the season.
Since starting the year 12-1, Atlanta is 43-42, fresh off of losing two of three to the lowly Chicago White Sox, and a poor team away from Turner Field.
With the Upton brothers struggling, Jason Heyward in the midst of a lost, injury plagued season and Craig Kimbrel less dominant than in recent years, there's little reason to believe the Braves will run away with the division. Considering the way Philadelphia and Washington have played, Atlanta should be kicking themselves for only holding a seven-game lead this far into the season.
With nine more head-to-head games left against Atlanta, Washington has the time and opportunity to catch Atlanta atop the NL East.
The decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg last September was correct, but the ripple effect on the organization will be felt from this moment on.
When the Nationals decided to value the long-term health of their ace over the short-term goal of winning a World Championship in 2012, it signaled to fans that the team thought Strasburg was so dominant and special that the franchise could essentially win big in future seasons if he remained healthy.
Well, those future seasons have arrived and Strasburg is healthy.
Despite a rough outing before the All-Star break against Miami, the 25-year-old right-handed pitcher has been very good, if not outstanding, in 2013. With a 2.97 ERA, 8.97 K/9 and a ground ball rate over 50 percent, Washington has a top-of-the-rotation arm ready to go the distance this time.
By cashing out last season, the emphasis to watch Strasburg pitch them into and through October began this year.
Logic took them out of the running in 2012. Fear of failure isn't an acceptable excuse to check out of 2013.
Here is the complete list of National League hitters with a better season OPS than Bryce Harper's .879: Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer, Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto, Buster Posey, David Wright, Matt Carpenter, and Shin-Soo Choo.
Considering that Gonzalez, Cuddyer and Wright aren't likely headed to October, Harper is right there with the five most consistently dominant hitters in the National League this season. If the Nationals can reach October, they have their own MVP-level bat to counteract the prowess of sluggers and on-base machines they could possibly face.
Due to a knee injury that wiped out much of Harper's May and June, the hype machine moved away from his excellent April (1.150 OPS) and back towards the talent of Mike Trout and Manny Machado, baseball's other future star position players.
Of course, the Nationals know what they have in Harper: a star in the future, but also capable of dominating in the present, perhaps for a short, franchise altering burst in October.
Despite the struggles of Dan Haren, recent neck issues of Jordan Zimmermann, long disabled list stint from Ross Detwiler and oblique strain suffered by Stephen Strasburg earlier this season, the Nationals boast the seventh best ERA in baseball.
In other words, the team profiles as having enough high-end arms, especially with the Strasburg-Gonzalez-Zimmermann trio atop the rotation, to survive and thrive if they can reach October.
Of course, an additional arm may be needed to help them achieve that goal. If the Nationals heed this advice, adding a starting pitcher along with offensive help, it could be paramount to their success.
At this point, despite the stellar team ERA, trusting Dan Haren to be anything close to his old, dominant self could be a fatal mistake.
The Nationals have the arms to win in October, but they might need some help behind them to reach that month.
In February, Nationals manager Davey Johnson told CSN Washington that the team could 'fire him' if the playoffs weren't reached in 2013.
Considering the declaration, expectations and most recent self-evaluation, Johnson's last stand as a big league manager may take place over these next two months.
The 2012 National League Manager of the Year certainly has the experience and pedigree to turn this roster around, but his age (70) and uncertainty beyond 2013 make it hard to believe that he'll be garnered many more chances, if any, to win beyond this season in Washington.
From the mediocre play in Atlanta to Strasburg decision last September to Bryce Harper's prowess to top-of-the-rotation arms, the 2013 Washington Nationals must be an all-in team during both the July 31 and August 31 trade deadlines.
With a great manager making his last stand and a fanbase still recovering from the NLDS Game 5 meltdown against St. Louis, the franchise owes it to themselves to make a run in 2013.
While the roster isn't old or nearing a closing window of contention, certain aspects of the club make waiting until 2014 seem like an unreasonable endeavor.
Despite the weekend sweep and 48-50 record, it's not time to think about next year in Washington.
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