Think of it like that - if the Nats play average baseball the rest of the way the Braves have to be great the rest of the way to pass them, and the Giants AND the Cardinals have to be very good (or I suppose the Pirates could be great). That's a lot of unlikelies thrown together.
More worrisome would be the Nats play terrible, because then all those teams could play to more normal levels to pass the Nats. That's really what you are saying when you say not to look to the playoffs. You are worried that the Nats will reel off, for no good reason like injury or schedule or strife, their worst 30 game stretch of the year right now, allowing the Braves to catch and pass them with a good September, and the Cardinals/Giants to beat them for the WC with average ones. Could it happen? Sure. But as I said in the comments - for every famous collapse you can quote I can give you 4-5-10 teams that didn't. The fact that it could happen means we don't call it, but we can start to look to September to answer some questions because if you don't do it now there isn't a two week exhibition season prior to the playoffs to figure it out.
Anyway - back to the topic at hand. We could talk about the rotation but that's going to be played to death by the end of September or whenever Williams makes a decision. You know my thoughts going into the month - the 4 best pitchers should start regardless of IP or handedness. Really the only team that is leaps and bounds worse vs LHP is the Pirates, who probably won't make it. The Dodgers are a little worse but I don't want a questionable Gio facing Puig, Kemp, & Hanley do you? No, four best.
Anything else? Clip's struggles would play into that "slumping" category... we can wrangle out a couple.
What to do with Ryan Zimmerman?
He should be healthy in September. If he comes back, the Nats can do four things with him.
- Sit him - The Nats are a perfectly good team without him and who knows how long it will take him to get his swing back. Of course if he is fine he's certainly a better hitter than some guys in the lineup he could replace and he is the best of that non-Werth/LaRoche group at taking walks.
- Start him at 1st, platooning with LaRoche - LaRoche is pretty terrible versus lefties (.197 / .291 / .299) so at the plate it makes sense, but the Nats are convinced that LaRoche is a key defender. On GBs I can affirmatively tell you that's not the case. LaRoche can't move. When's the last time you remember a diving LaRoche stopping something? But on throws? Maybe. Zimmerman could be better, should be better, but is really a big question mark since he's been playing primarily LF. If he isn't ready for 1st, you don't want to find out during a playoff game.
- Start him at 3rd - Rendon goes to 2nd removing probably the weakest offensive player, Cabrera, from the lineup. This gives you the strongest line-up overall but brings back the Zimmerman at 3B issues. He's altered his throws in a way that might be able to compensate, but he's not comfortable and no one fully trusts him. With Rendon playing the position well enough why mess with it?
- Start him in LF - Now this could be a platoon with Bryce thing - which wouldn't make sense as Bryce has actually been fine versus lefties this year - but it remains out there. We'll talk about it later. The other way this could work is a Bryce to CF and sit Span thing. Again, makes your offense better because Zimm is better than Span, but Span plays a critical role compensating for Werth's declining range. Move Bryce, who is passable in LF but not great, to CF and the OF defense takes a big hit. Not to mention what sitting Span would do to Williams' mind line-up wise.
Will Bryce face tough lefties in the playoffs?
For a while there it seemed like Bryce was sitting versus lefties regularly. Whether that was the truth or not, it no longer is. In August he sat twice, both versus Cole Hamels, and started against every other lefty (Miley, Locke, Neise and Wood I think). So he's facing lefties now, but sitting versus the hard ones. In the playoffs though, usually the talent is upped so all the pitchers you are facing are hard ones. My guess will be yes he will face all the lefties, part of the Hamels sit was because Hairston hits him well, but I think a big indicator will be when the Nats face Kershaw in the upcoming Dodgers series.
This is not to say you can't sit Byrce. You can. I don't like it. I don't think it's a good idea, but I get where it's coming from. But you can't sit Bryce versus lefties before you sit LaRoche, that just flat out makes no sense. Let's see what happens in LA.
Is Blevins demoted to LOOGY/Mop-up status?
Blevins can't face righties in a big spot. The evidence this year is too strong to risk it. Yet it keeps happening. I'd love to see this stop in September.
Any other non-rotation questions sitting out there?