Rolling back into town, things same as they ever were, the Nationals can take solace in their situation by looking across the division. Brutish, really, a bunch of teams labeled contenders which can’t assemble winning streaks or bullpen outs. The National League East is an ugly affair filled with teams barely playing winning baseball. Not one of the five has a record better than .500 across the last 10 games.
Which is good news for the Nationals. They left the District with hopes consecutive series against supposedly inferior teams would jumpstart this pothole-filled season. No such results. Losers of four of six against downtrodden Miami and suddenly vibing Colorado leaves Washington a game under .500 -- its home of a year-plus. The Nationals have been within one game of .500, either a game above or below, 95 times since the 2018 season began with a 4-0 sweep in Cincinnati. That’s the most in the majors by 22 games.
So, a week away did nothing to change the team’s record or problems. Trevor Rosenthal still can’t find the plate. Trea Turner still has not healed. The bullpen as a whole is still languishing. Anthony Rendon’s elbow bruise was enough to keep him out of the Colorado series but not on the 10-day injured list.
Rosenthal remains a conundrum. Another wild appearance in Colorado undermined the progress of his previous appearance. He hits batters, bats and backstops, none of which are the goal.
Washington has few options with him. Rosenthal is earning $7 million guaranteed this season. He has minor-league options, but his major-league service time means he would have to accept an assignment to the lower levels. The Nationals can’t just send him down. He also just spent a year-plus recovering from surgery in order to pitch in the major leagues. Try telling that person it’s time for the minor leagues. He currently can’t be trusted in any spot. But, he needs to pitch to fix his issues.
An argument to Rosenthal to accept a minor-league assignment could go like this: go down there, get right, come back to help us when that happens. Don’t think only about now. Think about the future, too. A $14-million club option is on the line for next season. The chance Washington takes that option is close to nil. So, Rosenthal needs to think about employment elsewhere. What’s happening now -- pitching sparingly with stomach-churning results -- is not working, and it’s not working for anyone.
Another looming question as spunky San Diego arrives for a three-game series, is Rendon’s status. He has not played since being hit by a pitch April 20 in Miami. He also is yet to make his way to the injured list. Which, presumably, means the Nationals expect Rendon to be available Friday night against the Padres. If not, he should have been placed on the injured list already, retroactive to Sunday.
Without Rendon, the Nationals received a sustained look at Victor Robles hitting second. The results were intriguing. Robles remains a dynamic athlete who is still learning to hit. Davey Martinez will have to decide whether he is a fit to hit second without Turner and with Rendon in the lineup. Putting Robles second would have a two-fold benefit: It moves Rendon to hitting third, which moves Juan Soto to fourth, giving further separation to the left-handed bats in the lineup (part of the original thought for hitting Turner second). It also simply provides Robles more at-bats.
However Martinez -- and the organization -- decide to act will not be made easier by the coming schedule. San Diego’s negative run differential suggests its 14-11 record is built on false underpinnings. However, it remains a competitive team. St. Louis -- the NL’s best team as of Thursday -- is next. Another drive to Philadelphia follows, then a trip to Milwaukee and four games in Los Angeles against the first-place Dodgers.
Washington has to figure out if Rosenthal will be making any of those journeys, where Robles will be hitting, and, most notably, how they can put together consecutive wins. Its longest winning streak is two games. Its longest losing streak is two games. The Nationals have never been more than one game over .500 or two games below this season. This is peak middling, and not what a $190 million payroll was dispatched to do.
MORE NATIONALS NEWS:
- Shelled in Colorado: Nats pitching staff has tough road trip
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- Get Well Soon: Rendon still out after being hit on elbow
- Philly Problems: Jake Arrieta calls out Bryce Harper