Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Or, perhaps more accurately: Oh, how the mighty never proved themselves.
Currently, the Washington Nationals' record stands at 48-53, putting them at a .475 winning percentage, their lowest of the season. They're in the midst of a six-game losing streak, their longest of the season. They've fallen to third place in the NL East, and are 9.5 games back in the Wild Card standings. They have the fourth-worst team batting average in all of MLB (.239) and the third-worst on-base percentage (.299).
Indeed, it's hard to believe that this is the very team which was predicted to win the World Series at the beginning of the season.
In their defense, the Nats' starting roster has been riddled with injury all season long. This year alone, Wilson Ramos, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Danny Espinosa, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, and Dan Haren have all had significant stints on the DL, with Espinosa indefinitely banished to the minors.
There are three players currently on the DL: Ryan Mattheus, who could return July 26; Ian Desmond, who's expected to be out for a few days with a blister on his left hand; and Ross Detwiler (pinched nerve).
It is the second trip to the DL this season for Detwiler. He's expected to miss an entire month, leaving Taylor Jordan to pick up the slack.
Injury aside, the Nats also have a serious problem generating offense. As stated above, their team batting average and OBP are among the worst the league. On the team itself, Werth boasts the highest batting average at .298, while Harper has the highest OBP at .368, a decent number. Unfortunately, the Nats are notorious for stranding base runners—they have the second-lowest RBI total in the league at 351.
Washington's offensive inability is bad enough that general manager Mike Rizzo made the (arguably irrational) decision to fire hitting coach Rick Eckstein. However, so far the move has done nothing but lower team morale. Adam LaRoche, Chad Tracy, Zimmerman and Desmond all defended Eckstein while blaming themselves for the team's offensive woes. Manager Davey Johnson was so incensed by Eckstein's firing that he walked out of a post-game press conference when questioned about its implications.
It's as if a ship is sinking, and rather than try to repair the holes they have given it a new motor.
So, with 101 games played and only 61 to go, the question for the reigning NL East champions is whether or not they can salvage the rest of their season, and how they plan to do it. According to Rizzo, there are no plans to trade for anyone who may improve the team's success:
"I don't think there's a player out there that is available that is better than what we have if our players are playing up to their potential. This is the team we have. I mean, these guys are all good, young, controllable players. Remember, we're still one of the youngest teams in Major League Baseball. And it's hard to believe that, but it's true. I think we're the third youngest team in Major League Baseball. And we're going through some growing pains."
"Our younger players are learning on the job at times. Anthony Rendon is learning to play second base at the major league level. So, we're set at our positions. And that's a good thing, because we're set for the long haul, '13 and beyond and that's always been our credo over here and we continue to press upon that. We're proud that we have this good young core or players that are under control, are going to be around for a while, because it's a great group of guys with a great talent base, and we think it's going to win a lot of baseball games."
Of course, the problem here is that the Nats have not played up to their potential all season long. Washington's management has always been a huge fan of the "wait and see" strategy—and that can only get you so far.
Unfortunately for Nats fans, it looks like they're going to have to continue to do what they've done all season: Hope their team can, somehow, pull it together.