Hey, the Washington Nationals are selling!
Sure, the non-waiver deadline was three weeks ago, but hey, they’re trying!
On Tuesday, the Nationals made a pair of trades involving veterans on their roster, sending second baseman Daniel Murphy to the Cubs and first baseman Matt Adams to the Cardinals.
The #Nats have traded Daniel Murphy to the Cubs and Matt Adams to the Cardinals.
President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo will address the media momentarily.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) August 21, 2018
This is all well and good, but the Nationals clearly could have received more than cash (for Adams) and a 21-year old in A-ball (for Murphy) had they traded the players three weeks earlier prior to the non-waiver deadline. Washington avoided a full-fledged rebuild/fire sale going into July 31st because the team felt they were good enough to play themselves back into the race, but that didn’t happen.
Since July 31st, the Nationals have gone just 9-10, losing 2.5 more games of ground in the NL East to the Braves and one game to the Phillies. Heading into play on August 21st, they’re 62-63, 7.5 games back of the Braves in the NL East and 6.5 games back of the Cardinals, Phillies, and Rockies in the chaotic race for the second NL Wild Card.
At this point for the Nationals, it’s less about their deficit in the Wild Card race and more about the number of teams ahead of them in the standings. The Brewers are just a half game above that trio for the first Wild Card spot (and three games back in the NL Central standings), the Diamondbacks lead the Rockies by half a game in the NL West standings, the Braves have only a one game edge on the Phillies for the NL East lead, and both the Dodgers (two games out) and Pirates (six back) are closer to the second Wild Card than the Nationals. Hell, even the Giants at seven games out are a contender in the same boat as the Nationals and not out of contention, like the Reds, Mets, Marlins, or Padres.
For the Nationals to even win 84 games, they need to go 22-15 the rest of the way. For them to win 87 games, they would need a 25-12 record the rest of the way, which is a .676 clip. And that might not even be enough: the Cardinals, Phillies, and Rockies only need to play .500 ball to finish with 87 wins. If the Braves go .500 the rest of the way, they’ll finish with 88 wins.
For the Nationals to make the playoffs now, they would need to go on an unreal tear…and hope the rest of their competition in the National League plays terribly. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but the Nationals still have nine games left with the Phillies, four with the Cubs, and three each with the Braves, Rockies, Cardinals, and Brewers. Even if the Nationals sweep their 12 combined games with the Mets and Marlins, they would still need to split their remaining games with the NL’s contenders just to have a slim chance at qualifying for the playoffs.
In short, if the Nationals wanted to sell after the deadline, they should have sold before the deadline. The team was under .500 in April, June, July, and now, August. They had a fantastic 20-7 May, but fattened up against the Padres, Marlins, and Orioles that month, notching ten of those 20 wins against three of the worst teams in baseball. They’re under .500 against the Braves and Phillies, and have somehow played .500 ball against the Mets over 12 games. They also have sub-.500 records against NL contenders Chicago, Colorado, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, and St. Louis – the only teams the Nationals have a winning record against this season are the Diamondbacks (which is legitimately surprising), Orioles, Reds, Marlins, Pirates, and Padres. The only one of those teams they’ll play the rest of the way is the Marlins.
After the failures of 2018, it will definitely be interesting to see what the Nationals do this offseason. Murphy and Adams are both gone. Bryce Harper is expected to follow them out the door as a free agent. Gio Gonzalez, Kelvin Herrera, Greg Holland, Ryan Madson, and Matt Wieters are all free agents. If the Nationals go into this winter expecting to compete in 2019, GM Mike Rizzo will have his work cut out for himself – and he won’t be able to patch over his team’s gaping holes too easily.