In his "Power Rankings" Jonah Keri has the Nats 5th and notes out of all the top teams the Nats seem to have the fewest weaknesses. That you'd have to nitpick to find them. Of course the Nats must have some weaknesses or they wouldn't be the current "worst division leader" who are one loss to the Mets away from three straight non-winning series. So let's nitpick. What are these weaknesses?
1) They have a lot of good and a little great.
This sounds like a backhanded compliment but it matters. Let's simplify things and say there are 5 types of player; bad, poor, fair, good, and great. Moving up the scale from one type to the next nets you an extra win. The difference is moving from bad to poor may cost you a couple hundred thousand, moving from good to great might cost you a couple hundred million (I'm simplifying people!). Now that we are experiencing a Spanaissance, the Nats have a very good to fair player at every position. That's really good! But it also makes improving the team next to impossible.
When you are at that 7-15 ish player range improving to 5-10 hardly makes a dent. No, you have to improve to the Top 1-5 and those guys aren't cheap - either in the money it costs you to sign or the talent it costs you in trade. Looking for value, it's not likely the Nats will make those sorts of deals so we're left with the hope that some of the players on the team break out into superstardom if we want those extra wins.
This isn't a "losing" weakness, more of a "keep from dominating" one, but I said I was nitpicking
2) The 1B line defense is not good
When I caught up on the game last night and saw the phrases "triple past LaRoche" and "Bloop Werth couldn't get to", let's just say I wasn't surprised. Werth is near the bottom in range for qulaified RF, and LaRoche is dead last at his position. This isn't a one year fluke, either, it's a trend. These guys can still catch and are sound defenders... when they can get to the ball. But at this age they get to fewer and fewer and the beating of a season coupled with the non-stop ravages of time mean they are likely getting to fewer today then they were in May.
Coupled with a 4 righty staff and a predominately righty pen, the Nats will face more than their share of lefties which might exacerbate the problem. Some crafty defensive shifting might help alleviate this issue a little but the Nats aren't shifty. And it's not like either of these guys are going to sit late in close games.
3) The bench stinks.
Benches often stink but here's the question posed to you: It's late in the game and the pitcher is up, you need a hit, who do you bring in? Maybe you just need a baserunner, who's your choice? What if you are just crossing your fingers for a long bomb, who are you asking to pick up the bat? If you responded "I really don't know" to all three questions congratulations, you've noticed the Nats bench has no strength, or even moderate ability at the plate.
Ok that's a little rough. If for some reason the opponent was stuck with a LHP out there, Espinosa or Hairston might answer a couple of those questions, but seriously when are you stuck with a LHP? The Nats bench strength right now is defense (Espy) which is mitigated by having decent defenders across the MI now, and relative speed (most of these guys are fair to good baserunners which give you lots of options for Ramos/LaRoche/pitchers late in games)
Is Souza the answer? Maybe. But it would feel a lot better if there was one guy on the bench you could count on to do one thing. A slappy singles hitter that puts the bat on the ball. A big masher who strikes out 7 times but the 8th one he takes deep. Those types play more into the PH roles they are likely to have come October.Still it's not completely Rizzo's fault. The collapse of both Lobaton and McLouth is surprising.
4) only LOOGYs
Matt Thorton could solve this, but he might not. As it stands only having a LHRP that's a LOOGY is a weakness. It's kind of like the weakness #1 up there - hey it's good to have a LOOGY - but it creates some issues. You put him in in the 6th, what if you need another big lefty out in the 8th and Clip is faltering? You have good LHB, great RHB, good LHB coming up - how do you work that? Detwiler could have been the solution but apparently the team hates him or something, I don't know. So we look to Thorton. Deliver us.
5) Matt Williams?
Opinion only but I'm not convinced he won't conventional the Nats into a playoff loss. Nor am I convinced that he hasn't done everything on the fringes he can to mess up the development of Bryce. Calling him out, questioning him, batting him in sub-optimal places, sitting him when he's hot. Nothing overt but add it up and I'm not dismissing someone who thinks this has hurt Bryce.
I know liking a manager is rare, but early on, especially with winning teams, you usually have your share of defenders. Right now the best defense I hear is "i don't think he'll necessarily be like this in the playoffs". Not exactly confidence inspiring.