We're getting dreadfully close to entering the dog days of summer early, aren't we? That's not really a complaint. The Nats' pitching rotation has come back to life carrying the rest of the uneven injury prone talent to first place and slowly pulling away from the rest of the maybe completely not good NL East. If the Nats don't stumble soon, I just don't see how the season can break any other way than winning the division.
That NL East sucking might be a topic you are tired of but it is probably going to be a sticking point for the rest of the year. The Nats are clearly good, dozens of prognosticators aren't wrong, but how good are they? Are they very good or are they just very good in comparison? Unless the Nats start dominating the non NL East competition (they are below .500 against them right now) this is going to hang over their heads until the playoffs. (And it'll be decided by the playoffs even though that's completely not a fair way to do it, win or lose)
But what are you going to do? The Nats have to deal with the hand that has been dealt to them so if they win the pot, we can't worry too much about whether they won it with a pair of 10s or with a flush. At least we can't worry about it in early July. We'll look at the team come the All-Star break, see where they could improve through moves (even though none will probably take place). We'll look at the team come September and see how they are setting up for the playoffs. Until then we wait. (Hopefully - injuries can derail the best of trains)
Last night was a microcosm of the season for Jordan Zimmermann (7.2IP, 6 H 6K, 0BB last night) and Ian Desmond (0-4 4Ks), who both refused big, but below market, deals from the Nats in order to cash in on upcoming free agency. We should bear them no ill-will for these decisions as they both did what anyone would do. Not "trying to get paid!" but "trying to get paid fairly". However, things have fallen apart for Ian, while ZNN seems in line to get a big deal
Ian Desmond had a bad start to the season hitting .211 / .279 / .316 in his first 24 games. Really that isn't far off the typical off month for Ian but it was coupled with a crazy 9 errors in his first 20 games. It's harder to ignore an poor hitting month when you hurt the team in other ways too. The next 24 games were actually really good for Ian (.309 / .337 / .495 with 4 errors) but hardly anyone noticed for several reasons. As far as the middle infield was concerned, Yunel Escobar had a fast start and continued to hit, while Danny was surprising everyone with his comeback. Mostly though Bryce turned into a monster and overshadowed everyone. So the "oh ok Ian is back to being normal" that should have happened never did. As soon as Bryce returned to mere mortal status, and we could pay attention to everyone else, Ian floundered again. That's actually putting it lightly. Ian started the worst slump of his career. He's hit .149 / .187 / .248 in the past 27 games. He may be righting the ship (he hit .123 / .163 / .173 for the first 22, .250 / .286 /.550 in the past 5), and his error clip has been normal the past 50+ games. but at this point as far as Nats fans are concerned he stunk, they looked away, and when they looked back he still stunk. They are ready for a replacement. Difo and Turner are theoretical replacements and Rendon being healthy looms over the MI.
It's a difficult spot for Ian. I don't see any reason why he shouldn't get to play through it. His bat, if right, would be more influential than Danny (who's been slumping) or Yuney (who's been lucky) and the team should be comfortably ahead. But if the Nats want to prepare for a post-Ian world, why not sit him? Because it would show all your FAs to be and possibly coming in how you treat players? Possibly, but FAs are 99% motivated by money, so it's a small worry. Short of it - Ian better right himself before Rendon is back or he may not get that chance. He'll still make money, but the huge deal we thought he might get will have faded away.
As for ZNN everyone talked about his FB speed to begin the year. I wasn't sure why everyone cared that much. Sure it was slow, but outside a disastrous outing in Boston he still pitched well. Isn't that what matters most? Well, as far as that's concerned it's been climbing ever since. Is it still down on the past few years? Yes. But it was almost 2 MPH slower in April, to a mile and a half slower in May, to less than a mile slower in June. Consequently we see the one worry area of his pitching (the K/9 numbers being low) getting better each month. Maybe this tells Jordan something about his Spring Training approach that needs to change as he ages but I have few worries about his arm. I have no worries about his ability to pitch. His control is as good as ever. His ability to keep the ball in the park is still great. The K's give him ace potential but even without it he's still a top of the rotation type pitcher. (Even shaking off rust he's 28th in the NL in ERA).
Short of it - Jordan is going to get paid. Of the deep FA class Samardzjia, Fister, and Latos are all having off years so far. Fister, Latos, and Cueto all have injury questions hanging over them. Cueto and Samardzjia could be dealt and in this day and age teams are more likely to wrap up acquisitions than go for 1 year rentals. This leaves Price, Greinke and ZNN as the likely top of the class. You really never know what Greinke will do but personally I'd be surprised if he leaves LA. He's pitched very well there after a mildly disappointing stint in Milwaukee. Price has a decent chance to stay in Detroit. Worst case ZNN ends up 4th on a list of FA guys, but the way I see it he'll likely be one of the top 2 available. That's a dump truck full of money situation.