Every player on the Washington Nationals knows the numbers: 27 games left in the season and 7.5 games behind the Cincinnati Reds for the final NL Playoff spot. The Nationals have the players and the ability to at least put the pressure on the Reds and truly be a factor in the race for the post season.
The pitching staff of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gozalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Haren and even spot starter Ross Ohlendorf have more often than not put their team in place to win. It has been the Nationals’ offense and defense that has let them down.
It was stellar defense and timely hitting last year that they used to win 98 games en route to the NL East pennant and a spot in the playoffs. Now the question is: do the Nationals have the pride to go down fighting? Even they come up short, they need to show their fans, the ownership and most of all themselves that they are one of baseball’s quality teams.
Adam LaRoche has a final stretch to prove that he was worthy of the two-year deal he signed in the offseason. He can do that with a great push in the final few important games. He has to produce with men on base, and a few home runs would not hurt.
Ryan Zimmerman needs to prove that he can play smart defense at third base, not commit mistakes that seem to almost always end up costing the Nationals the game. If the former Gold Glove third baseman is hurting, then he needs to tell the team now.
He should give up his place to Anthony Rendon. It is Rendon, as all Nationals fans know, who will be the team’s future at the hot corner, and it is up to Zimmerman to show that he deserves to play there next year.
The bullpen needs to be more consistent, and that means both Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano can’t give up any more games with inconsistent pitching. The rest of the pen with Ryan Mattheus, Craig Stammen and Fernando Abad need to step up and pitch like Tyler Clippard and Tanner Roark, who have been lights-out all season.
Manager Davey Johnson needs to commit to playing Steve Lombardozzi at second base for the rest of the season because of his defense and his ability to find a way to get on base.
The Washington Nationals still have a chance to return to the postseason, but it is up to the players. They need to prove that they are worthy of being considered an elite team in baseball.
They owe it to their fans, who have been there for them all season long, and they owe it to management that has spent freely to make sure there was a talented roster.
September is where we see if teams have pride, talent and the will to play meaningful baseball. I think the Nationals have the ability to do that, but we will seen how things play out over the next three weeks.