I tweeted something yesterday that encapsulates exactly why I would call the Nats season with so many games (at the time) left to play. Here is an expanded version.
After the games of August 5th, the Nats had won their 4th game in a row and had opened up a large lead over their closest rivals for the NL East title. They were 7 games ahead of the Marlins and had a 9 game lead on the Mets. In the 17 games since then the Nats have gone a middling 8-9. But they are in no worse position after the games of August 24th then they were then. The Marlins are still 7 games back and the Mets have even lost ground, now down by 10.
You can take negatives from this. This isn't how a winning team plays* The NL East sucks** I prefer to take a positive. The Nats will make the playoffs.
Now let's talk about a couple of guys going in opposite directions. Do you want the bad news or the good news first? How about the Danny Espinosa, I mean "bad news", first. Sorry, slip of the tongue.
Danny is hitting .220 / .318 / .400. As it stands now he is holding on to the "good enough" level that we've talked about with Danny at the beginning of his career. If he can walk ok and hit homers ok then the low average doesn't matter as much. But he's only holding onto it by the skin of his teeth. .235 is ok. .215 is not. You could say the trend is not good, that he's flailing recently but that's not really the truth. Here's the truth.
Danny's first 57 games : .196 / .289 / .348
Danny's next 26 games : .357 / .455 / .762
Danny's last 39 games : .168 / .269 / .248
Danny had one great month and almost 100 games of offense so bad you'd have to sit him. Being streaky is fine, but that word suggests you go on and off streaks all year. You run hot and cold. Danny... he isn't doing this. This is more fluky that streaky. It's more 2014, where he started with a good month and that was it, than 2015, where he played well for most of the first half and had a decent 3 week stretch right around now.
Even if you are inclined to like Danny and think he's more of the pre-injury guy (hovering in the 90-100 OPS+ range) than the post-injury guy (somewhere from worse than that to "if I played baseball"), there isn't much to hang your hat on. There's no unfortunate BABIP (it's .286) His K rate, the bane of his offensive existence, which had dropped to a reasonable mid 20s% is back up well over 30%. The crazy HR/FB rate that helped power June went away, as expected. He's hitting a lot of balls softly. He tanked the end of the last two years. While you can excuse that last one (circumstances differed) you can't deny it and hope for a late season explosion.
This is basically Danny. If he hits a little better you can take it. If the team as a whole is pretty good offensively, you can accept his flaws in the 8 hole. But at some point he won't hit enough, or the team will struggle too much, and it just won't be worth it to keep the slick fielding around. This is why Trea Turner was brought here and Daniel Murphy signed. Danny is short term. Let's hope that doesn't mean "last year"
But now good news and one Mr. Anthony Micelli Rendon. Wait. Nope. The "M" stands for Michael. How disappointing. And Boring. But knowing the Nats it's pronounced MY-CHEY-EL
Like Danny is Danny, Rendon is Rendon. He will hit if he's healthy. The problem was it was taking a long time for him to get healthy. It was a very slow April (.242 / .310 / .286). May was ok but June seemed to be a half-step back from that. Given that we were half-way through the year at that point, it was reasonable to ask if he'd ever get it going in 2016, or if fans would have to wait until next year.
But right around that half-way point he began to heat up and he hasn't slowed down since. .312 / .386 / .584 starting with game 82. Rendon does have a little high BABIP recently but for the 2nd half it's a reasonably high .327. His K-rate, up in the 23% range, has dropped like a rock under 12% in the second half. He's stopped hitting ground balls (down to 28% from over 40% earlier). He's probably a little lucky but the question isn't if he can be hit like he's hit post-break. That'd be great but it would be a Murphy like transition to MVP favorite type. No, the question is can he hit like the .287 / .351 / .473 line from 2014? I think it's safe to say yes. That guy had a .314 BABIP a K rate around 15%, similar hit patterns and fancy stats. I can't promise you Rendon is better than that (though he might be - he's still youngish) but I feel pretty good saying I don't think he'll be worse.
The Nats aren't a perfect offensive team by any means, but there enough good pieces here when everyone's healthy to make a very good offense. While guys like Zimm and Rendon got their feet under them other guys have picked it up. Ramos, Drew, Turner. For a month Danny put the team on his back, but that's probably all he can do. It is time for the injury guys to step up and they have. Rendon is back to being Rendon.
*Not true. Did you know the Royals went 8-16 in September last year? In 2014 the Giants finished the year 6-9? In 2012 the Giants spent the end of July and first half of August going 11-13? The 2011 Cardinals spent most of the month before Labor Day going 12-14? The 2010 Giants went 12-16 for a stretch in August. The 200... I hope you get the point. Middling, even bad stretches, late in the year don't mean you can't win in the playoffs. In fact August and September cover a third of a season. It's more likely that you have a middling stretch in there than you don't.
**Now this has some teeth. The Nats lost only a half-game to the Phillies and gained ground on the Braves which means that since August 5th the NL East as a whole has played like garbage. The Marlins have the worst record of a second place team right now. The Mets are 5 out of 6 for third place teams. The Phillies - hey the Phillies are ok! I mean in terms of rating 4th place teams. And the Braves are the worst team in baseball.