General manager Mike Rizzo said his Nationals would operate like World Series contenders at the 2020 MLB trade deadline. They instead acted more like recent World Series champs, perhaps not feeling the need to be aggressive as they usually are because they just won it all.
The Nats, in fact, did nothing while the other four teams in the NL East division added pieces. Washington stood pat despite having the second-worst record in the National League and currently being in position to land the fifth overall pick.
Despite the inactivity, however, the Nationals have more reason to look up than down, knowing they should still have enough talent to make a postseason push in an expanded format that will include eight teams from each league and 16 in total. So, how can the Nationals (12-20) turn things around without outside reinforcements?
Here are five things that need to happen...
Sanchez needs to pull it together
With Stephen Strasburg out and the Nats holding the worst rotation ERA in the NL, starting pitching was their biggest need at the deadline. Because they didn't address the problem, they can only hope to improve from within and Anibal Sanchez may give them their biggest hope to do that. It was Sanchez who flipped the script last year right when the Nats needed it, but so far this season he has been too inconsistent to rely on.
The Nats still have Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin, but one more reliable arm would go a long way towards helping them overcome whatever they get out of Austin Voth, Erick Fedde and prospects. Sanchez, though, is going to have to shave at least two runs off his ERA (6.90) to even become serviceable.
Eaton and Robles have to hit
There are some metrics that suggest the Nats' offense has not been a major problem, like for instance their .791 OPS, good for fifth in the majors, or their league' best .290 batting average. But the lineup has been inconsistent and top-heavy with Juan Soto and Trea Turner leading the way. What would help tremendously is if Adam Eaton and Victor Robles played to their career norms.
Both players have OPS numbers below .700 with Robles also leading the team in strikeouts. If Eaton and Robles both got going, it would help stabilize the top and bottom of the Nats' order. It would also take some pressure off of Soto and Turner, who can't be expected to lead the offense every night. Getting Eric Thames up to speed would also help that cause.
Scherzer and Corbin have to stay healthy
With Strasburg gone, the Nats still have two All-Star pitchers in their rotation in Scherzer and Corbin, who are now more important than ever. No longer do the Nats have strength in numbers, they have two aces and a lot of question marks after that. Scherzer and Corbin now have to pitch well or else. That means stay healthy and be more consistent than they have been so far this season.
Scherzer has been striking plenty of guys out, but he has a 3.68 ERA which is uncharacteristically high for him. Corbin's ERA is 3.82, also high for his career norms, and his strikeout numbers are down. Both of those guys likely need to pitch like aces if the Nats are going to make the playoffs.
Bullpen can't take a step back
While the rotation has fallen far short of expectations, the bullpen collectively has not been bad and that despite some injuries. Nats relievers have the 17th-best ERA in the majors as a group, so about average. As long as they middle-of-the-road, and the rotation gets back on track, the Nats can probably make it work. But if the bullpen were to go back to what they were for most of last season, then the Nationals will be in deep trouble.
In the short-term, the hope would be Tanner Rainey continues his breakout season, Kyle Finnegan keeps finding early success in the big leagues, Javy Guerra can at least be solid and some collection of Sean Doolittle, Daniel Hudson and Will Harris figures it out. As you can see, there are a lot of 'ifs.'
Miami or Philly probably needs to fall off
There are technically five teams standing between the final NL playoff spot, so they need plenty of help. But there are two teams in their way that they can improve their cause directly against: the Marlins and Phillies, two NL East foes.
The Nats have seven remaining games against the Phillies and five more vs. the Marlins. They are 0-3 against Philly and 2-3 against Miami. They need to start beating up on teams like them, ones that may be good enough to make the playoffs but by no means belong in the league's elite. The Mets are also in front of the Nats, and Washington will have to pass them first, but Philly and Miami both hold playoff spots currently.