7 Reasons to Keep Watching the Nationals with an Eye on 2014
At 69-67, the Nationals are 14 games behind the Atlanta Braves, whose magic number to clinch the NL East is down to 13. Plus, Washington is 6.5 games behind the Cincinnati Reds for the second and final spot in the NL wild-card standings.
As far as postseason probabilities go, the Nationals have a zero percent chance of winning the NL East and a 3.6 percent chance of earning an NL wild-card spot.
For the Nationals, the 2013 season looks to be a lost cause.
But there are still several compelling reasons to watch the Nats—from September call-ups to a possible batting champion to a brewing controversy involving one of the team's young stars.
Here are seven reasons to keep watching the Washington Nationals with an eye on 2014.
Note: All statistics updated through Sept. 1 and courtesy of MLB.com unless noted otherwise.
7. Answering the Call
For the 2013 Nationals, September call-ups were supposed to be a way to bolster the roster for a playoff run.
Well, at least the Nats can give some marginal players another chance to play in the big leagues.
Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post broke down the Nationals' potential September call-ups on Aug. 27.
Kilgore listed relief pitchers Ian Krol and Ryan Mattheus as "definite" call-ups. Both have already seen MLB action this season and would immediately strengthen Washington's bullpen.
Kilgore listed utility player Jeff Kobernus, along with outfielders Corey Brown and Eury Perez, as "likely" call-ups. Brown has not been called up since last season while both Perez and Kobernus were with the Nationals earlier this year. All three add significant speed on the basepaths.
But Kilgore's list is more notable for who he excluded from the "definite" and "likely" call-ups this month.
6. Is Danny Espinosa Done in Washington?
On Aug. 27, Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post wrote that Danny Espinosa, the Nationals' 2013 Opening Day starter at second base would "maybe" receive a September call-up.
Espinosa spoke to Adam Kilgore on Aug. 31 after he was told he would not receive a call-up:
You know, I’m disappointed. At the same time, I understood why. I didn’t do enough hitting. I was kind of surprised. At the same time, they’re in a push for a wild card, and I feel that at least defensively I would be a huge help to that team. In late innings, to come in and be a defensive replacement, I think I could be a huge help. But the decision was made.
Citing a source close to the team, Bill Ladson of MLB.com wrote on Aug. 27 that the Nationals are attempting to trade Espinosa.
If that trade is consummated, Nationals fans would see the departure of a player once thought to be a cornerstone of this franchise.
5. Too Late to Trade Haren?
On Aug. 26, Derrick Goold of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch discussed the likelihood of such a deal and what the Nationals would request in exchange for the 32-year-old right-hander:
Washington’s surging starter Dan Haren cleared waivers and can be traded to any team, but the Nationals want a group of prospects. They can position as if they’ll get draft-pick compensation for Haren even if they have no plan to offer him a qualifying contract. It remains a seller’s market.
But no deal was done for Haren, and Aug. 31 was the deadline for teams to acquire players in order for them to be eligible for postseason rosters. Suddenly, Haren has become much less valuable.
It will be interesting to see if Nationals GM Mike Rizzo is still able to broker a deal involving Haren before the end of the regular season and how many prospects he is able to acquire in the process.
4. Fight for the Fifth Spot
While other teams battle for Dan Haren, other Nationals' pitchers will be battling for a spot at the back end of the starting rotation.
Ross Ohlendorf is definitely in the discussion.
The 31-year-old right-hander with the old-school windup is 3-0 with a 2.98 ERA in five starts and 13 total appearances over 48.1 innings pitched this season, with 12 walks and 34 strikeouts. Ohlendorf has yielded six home runs and a .240 batting average against, with a 1.16 WHIP.
Tanner Roark should get a start or two down the stretch as well. A starter by trade, the 26-year-old Illinois native has made nine appearances for the Nats this season, all in relief. In 22.2 innings pitched, Roark has an impressive 1.19 ERA, which includes seven scoreless appearances. Roark has walked seven and struck out 19 while compiling a .182 batting average against and a 0.93 WHIP. He has yet to surrender a home run.
Either of these pitchers could go from no-name to fifth starter in less than a season.
3. Will Werth Win NL Batting Title?
When a team's postseason chances are dashed, their fans can sometimes look to the individual exploits of one player as he pursues a specific statistical goal or milestone.
This season, Nats fans can watch as Jayson Werth pursues the National League batting title. The batting title is one of the more prestigious awards in baseball, yet at the same time, it is one of the most underrated individual achievements.
Werth is finally eligible for the batting title. Take a look at where he ranks among the top five in the NL in batting average:
|Chris Johnson||Atlanta Braves||118||427||.333|
|Yadier Molina||St. Louis Cardinals||112||420||.329|
|Michael Cuddyer||Colorado Rockies||111||415||.328|
|Jayson Werth||Washington Nationals||104||371||.323|
|Allen Craig||St. Louis Cardinals||131||498||.319|
If Werth can stay ahead of Craig while overtaking Cuddyer, Molina and Johnson, he would win the first league batting title of his 11-year career. That would bring a silver lining to the Nationals' cloudy season.
2. Hustle and Flow?
I never thought I'd ever write the following words, but Bryce Harper's hustle is being called into question.
Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post spoke to Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr on Aug. 30, following a game in which Harper failed to run out a ground ball in a crucial situation of a game the Nationals lost, 3-2:
That’s just him. He’s just 20, and sometimes, he just pouts. Sometimes, he pouts. I don’t know why. That’s the thing about him. You can’t be this guy who says you’re going to play hard every time out and then not do it. You can’t do that. He’ll learn that. He’ll get better with it. He’s 20 years old. He’s still a kid, and sometimes kids pout if things don’t go their way.
Kilgore followed up that quote with the following tweet later that same night:
That quote came this afternoon. Some questions internally about Harper's hustle even before it came to the surface tonight.— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) August 31, 2013
If this issue has existed for some time, it may take some time to go away.
1. Trial by Fire
Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr is one of several potential candidates to become manager of the Nationals during the 2014 season, according to The Washington Post. So, the end of the 2013 season can act as an extended tryout of sorts.
Knorr has already pushed himself to the forefront of the conversation with his handling of a very delicate and highly visible situation within the organization: how to deal with Bryce Harper's lack of hustle.
Knorr was acting as manager the night of Aug. 30 when Harper's hustle was called into question after he failed to leg out a ground ball late in a close ballgame.
Randy Knorr talked to Amanda Comak of The Washington Times about the Nationals' precocious yet petulant superstar after the game:
The thing about Bryce right now that’s tough is he gets frustrated. I don’t think he does it intentionally, but he’s going to have to start picking it up a little bit, because we’ve got everybody else doing it. He’s got a lot going on. It’s hard for me to say. I’m not 20 years old in the big leagues and all this stuff going on around me. (But it’s) something that we’ve got to get to the bottom of and keep talking to him, because eventually, we’re just going to have to take him out of the game.
That would be a novel approach and one that current manager Davey Johnson has not taken. It is an approach that could very well earn Knorr the job and bolster the success of this ballclub once he takes the helm for good next season.