A quick look at the National League East standings (below) show the Washington Nationals have a commanding 10 1/2 game lead over the Atlanta Braves, who are only just now getting back to .500 baseball. So how does a dominant team such as the Washington Nationals remain focused during the second half of the season? By blowing the competition out of the water, and never letting up on the gas pedal.
|NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST|
|N.Y. Mets||41||49||.456||14||436||479||-43||21-26||20-23||22-24||8-12||8-11||3-7||L 2|
The Nationals could easily get complacent at this time of the season, and sit back and watch everyone else in their division fight for a Wild Card spot, but that would be quite foolish for a team that has had some glaring weaknesses in their bullpen.
To address this particular need, the team recently traded with the Oakland Athletics for Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, in exchange for Blake Treinen and two other prospects. This move was necessary, but the Nationals should not be done making moves before the trade deadline in order to improve their odds of advancing in the playoffs.
The next move the Nationals make in this important stretch of the season will likely determine their fate come October. Their offense hasn’t let them down at this point in the season, and with potent bats such as Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Daniel Murphy at their disposal, Dusty Baker rarely has to worry about getting offensive production.
Instead, the Nationals should try to find a way to ensure they have a truly reliable closer in order to find a way to advance past the Divisional round of the playoffs that has long since haunted this squad.
Let’s say that the Nationals are able to acquire a dynamic closer in Justin Wilson and finally round out their struggling bullpen. Would this be enough to get the Nationals past a postseason opponent like the Milwaukee Brewers or the Los Angeles Dodgers? That question alone will be enough to keep GM Mike Rizzo and owner Ted Lerner up at night pondering all of the potential “what ifs” of the looming postseason.
Realistically, improvement of the Nationals bullpen would put the team in the best possible position to advance to the NLCS and beyond. However, the Nationals are all too familiar with having their bats suddenly going silent come October, and all they are left with is another season of wondering what could have been.
This postseason will be different, and the Nationals will find a way to get over the hump and capture, at the very least, the National League pennant. Depending on the American League Champion opponent, it wouldn’t be hard to see the Washington Nationals unveiling their World Series championship banner when the 2018 opening day rolls around next April.
For now, Nationals fans should hope that their team will do what they need to do in order to remain focused on preparing for this home stretch and find creative ways to win ball games leading to October baseball.