The 2012 Nationals had the best pitching staff in the NL, and a Top 5 offense in the league.
The 2013 Nationals had a good pitching staff and an offense just above average.
The 2014 Nationals had the best pitching staff in the NL, and a Top 3 offense in the league*.
The 2015 Nationals had good pitching staff and a Top 3 offense in the league.
The 2016 Nationals have the 2nd best pitching staff in the NL** and a below average offense.
If you can't tell the Nats fortunes have risen and fallen based not on the offense but on the arms. The offense was very good in 2015 and the Nats couldn't make the playoffs. The offense is so-so through 60 games this year and yet the Nats have one of the best records in the game. It's when the pitching staff fails to carry the team when they get into trouble.
This year the staff looks like it can carry, or more precisely it looks like the rotation does not have a weakness and as long as they stay healthy that can mitigate any bullpen issues. When in close games you can go from the starter to Rivero, hopefully one day Kelley, and then the competent Papelbon you will be fine.
I don't believe that the Nats can win it all without the offense performing better, but I do believe they can take the NL East in such a manner. It depends on what the Mets end up doing and currently their offense is worse than the Nats.
The above matters because it informs the Trea Turner vs Danny Espinosa argument. Danny hit a homer last night. Maybe he's heating up, but probably not. Regardless he's hitting around .200 which can be borderline useful assuming the player walks a lot and hits for power. Is he? Again borderline on both for May. In the meantime Trea Turner is doing well in AAA. Now don't confuse that with "tearing up AAA" as some people who can't read stats like to say, but he is undeniably doing very well. He had a hot streak and a cold streak and has come back to hit again. What kind of hitter is he in AAA? .300ish with a few walks and speed-based power. (more triples than HRs). Might strike out a bit much.
The question on Trea vs Danny hinges on two things. What do you think of Danny's D vs Trea's D and how do you think Trea will do on offense.
The D question is hard to answer but I've heard many people say they didn't think Danny was doing that well at short this season, so replacing him isn't a big deal. What do the stats say? By overall D 5th best SS in the majors. UZR tie 4th. Range 6th well above 7th. Error, DPR they all say the same thing. He's better than a Top 10 defensive SS, maybe as good as a top 5. Now of course we are dealing with a third of a season of defensive data which is like the batting equivalent of 3 weeks of hitting. In other words - not meaningless but far from meaningful.
But still you have to figure that the Nats think that he's doing well at defense considering they haven't worked in Drew more. And history tells us that Danny is not just an ok fielder but maybe a great one. So on one side you have the data, the team, and Danny's history telling us he's probably doing better than good. ON the other side you have John Q Fanboy tired of Danny striking out telling us he's not. I know which side a soulless automaton will fall on.
Of course this doesn't mean that Trea can't do just as well and his minor league range numbers are similar to Danny's at similar ages and levels. That doesn't necessarily tells us much but for a novice poking at the numbers there is nothing here that immediately disqualifies Trea. He could be Danny's equal. However, with limited data it's here though that we have to trust the scouts. And in that there is a general feeling Danny is better. How much and for how long? Those are good questions but in the scheme of 2016 they don't matter unless the answers are "tiny and for like a week". It seems like a good bet Danny will be a better fielder than Trea this season.
Ok so that means Trea needs to hit better than Danny in order for bringing him up to make sense in a pure 2016 sense. Will he? That's a tough question. It's going to hinge on a MAT type of issue. Trea strikes out a fair amount for a modestly powered middle infielder. When he came up to the majors that, as expected, increased and killed his average. Given that he's not a greatly patient hitter and his power is based on stretching hits, he didn't look good in any aspect at the plate. If that happens again, well Trea won't be any better than Danny. This isn't a long run issue. While he strikes out a fair amount it is not a crazy number like MAT might put up. It's high but in an area where if he improves a little bit - simply down to AAA levels - he'll be fine. Most people think that's a given. But that's for the future. For 2016 it's a legitimate worry.
What do I think? I think if you bring up Trea and let him play the full season he'll do slightly better than Danny. Not a lot better. Just slightly. A little worse defensively, but not as much as most people think. A little better offensively, but not as much as most people think. Is that worth it? For a team that's leading the East, its a question that has to be asked. And answering it honestly - probably not, no. The extra year of Trea down the line is worth more than winning the East by 5 games instead of 4.
Of course that assumes the Nats easily win the East and there's the issue. Bringing up Trea now is trying to maximize wins. There's no guarantee that will happen, he could even be bad enough to cost the Nats wins, but it's apparent that it's not a bad bet that Trea could be better than Danny, so if you want the most wins for 2016 you roll the dice with Trea. But is all that uncertainty - that Trea will add wins, that the wins are necessary, worth the cost of a possible extra year? You know me - all in 2016, but by now you also know the Nats as well.
*though as I've discussed a bunch before Top 3 here doesn't mean what you think it might as they were really no different from average than the Top 5 team from 2012. Both very good. Neither great.
** to the Cubs, not the Mets.