But what about any trade-deadline deals the Nationals actually could make?
The MLB non-waiver trade deadline is tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. (EDT). Let's look at the last-minute buzz surrounding the Washington Nationals.
Back on July 23, Jayson Stark of ESPN.com reported that the Nationals had difficult decisions to make leading up to the deadline:
Teams that have checked in with the Nationals say they're having a tough time formulating their deadline strategy. Why? Because they need to get better offensively -- but they're set at every position. There has been some murmuring among other teams that the Nationals might listen on Drew Storen if the right deal came along.
However, that was before the embattled Storen was demoted to Triple-A Syracuse on July 26, according to a Nationals press release. The move was disappointing, but not at all surprising.
Last season, after missing the first half with an injury, Storen appeared in 37 games with a 2.37 ERA, a 3-1 record and four saves in five opportunities. The former Stanford Cardinal struck out 24 and walked eight, with a .210 batting average against and a 0.99 WHIP.
But this season, Storen has been uncharacteristically bad. Storen posted a 5.95 ERA with a 3-2 record in 47 appearances thus far, while recording only two saves in seven opportunities. Storen has 43 strikeouts and 13 walks, with a .295 batting average against and a 1.51 WHIP.
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo explained the reasoning behind Storen's demotion to James Wagner of The Washington Post the very next day:
We felt that he was struggling, struggling with his mechanics, with his tempo, with his delivery, with his arm slot, and we felt that we would do him better by letting him go down in a less stressful situation, work on his mechanics, get it fixed, and get back up here and help us.
Consequently, a trade of Storen seems less likely. This is reflected at MLBTradeRumors.com, where a search for Drew Storen yields no new stories since July 25.
Rizzo also talked to Amanda Comak of The Washington Times on July 27 about the current state of the team and how that affects his plans for the trade deadline:
We’re in the midst of trying to assess [why the team has struggled]. I think we still have two months to figure it out, and we’ll assess it throughout the rest of the season, come up with a battle plan in the offseason to try and remedy that. We still have a lot of baseball left, and we’re looking forward to that. Like I said, I still like this ballclub. I still believe in it. We’ve got a lot of trade discussions. We’ve received calls, we’ve made calls. I’m not going to go much more into it than that other than we’re going to do what we do at every trade deadline: We’re going to try to improve this ballclub for 2013 and beyond...If we could tweak or improve certain spots on the bench, I think that would be one place that we would attack. But we’ve got ourselves a pretty talented group of guys that we’re committed to, and we like where we’re at.
That sentiment is especially true after this weekend's action.
On Friday, the Nationals were whitewashed 11-0 by the New York Mets in the first game of a doubleheader, to kick off a four-game series. All-Star Jordan Zimmermann was rocked for five earned runs in 6.2 innings pitched, surrendering six hits and two home runs while walking three and striking out eight.
However, the Nats responded with three consecutive victories, highlighted by a 14-1 shellacking on Sunday. In that game, Denard Span, betting seventh, went four-for-four with three RBI and three runs scored. Wilson Ramos, batting eighth, had two hits including a grand slam, to drive in five runs and score two. Washington allowed a single run in each game of the series following the opener.
The Nationals were able to change their fortunes within the context of a four-game series. Can the Nationals change their fortunes within the context of the regular season?
Joel Sherman of The New York Post answered that question in the affirmative on July 29:
An opposing scout, in fact, said Washington is the most obvious team currently with a losing record capable of “pulling a Dodgers,” which is to say putting together a sustained run of excellence to get from below .500 to the top of a division. When reached yesterday by phone, Rizzo offered the same observation, saying, “We haven’t had our run yet, and I think we are talented enough to have a Dodger-type run.” That is why with the trade deadline approaching the Nationals are still in buy mode — but mainly for bench help. Because their frontline players — at least on paper — still look so good.
As of right now, the Nationals are 52-54, second place in the NL East standings. They have lost six of their last 10 games, but are currently on a three-game winning streak.
Washington trails the Atlanta Braves by 9.0 games for the division lead. Atlanta is currently 61-45, having won six of their last 10 games, and four in a row. Washington still has a legitimate chance to catch Atlanta, as they have all season. However, if the Braves stay on this hot streak, they may finally leave the Nats in their dust, once and for all.
In terms of the NL wild-card standings, Washington trails the Cincinnati Reds by 7.0 games for the second and final spot. Cincinnati is currently 59-48, but has lost four in a row, and six of their last ten. The Reds are vulnerable. Now is the time for Washington to strike.
With July 31 only one day away, the Nationals should be relatively quiet at the trade deadline.
But with the end of the regular season 61 days away, this team could still make a lot of noise in the race for the postseason.
Note: All statistics updated through July 29 courtesy of MLB.com.