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Breaking down the National League contenders after a wild Trade Deadline

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Breaking down the National League contenders after a wild Trade Deadline

2018 brought us one of the most active trade deadlines in recent years. You have to go back to the Manny Machado trade during the All-Star Game to find a true superstar being moved, but there were several impact players who changed teams in the last few weeks.

The Nats, to the surprise of many fans, sat out most of the moves made on July 31st. They did trade Brandon Kintzler to the Chicago Cubs, but that’s not a move that’s going to drastically influence their playoff odds. 

GM Mike Rizzo maintains that the Nats are all-in on competing in 2018, so while they didn’t act as buyers, they still would like to win big this year. It won’t be easy, however, because there are 10 other teams who already have an edge on the Nats in the standings.

So, with the Nats staying pat at the deadline, and every other National League contender making moves to improve their rosters, let’s take a look around the Senior Circuit and reset the playoff picture as we enter August. Where do the Nationals find themselves compared to the rest of the NL?

Teams listed in order of record

Chicago Cubs (61-45, 1st in NL Central)

I actually really liked the addition of Cole Hamels for the Central-leading Cubs, as he shores up a pitching staff that has struggled to really differentiate itself. No, Hamels isn’t the World Series MVP ace he was a decade ago, but his numbers outside of the hitter’s haven that is Texas have actually been pretty terrific, and they didn’t give up much of consequence.

Hamels isn’t the best player to move at the deadline, but this is probably my favorite move made by any contender. The Cubs went into the deadline as one of the two favorites in the NL, and they got better.

Milwaukee Brewers (62-47, 2nd in NL Central)

The Brewers were active this month, I’ll give them that. I’m not entirely sure what they were thinking in adding Mike Moustakas AND Jonathan Schoop to a team that already employed Travis Shaw, but I know I sure want to watch what happens. Shaw at second base? Schoop at third? Good luck, pitchers.

The interesting thing is they’ve found most of their success this season thanks to defense and pitching, yet now they are going all in on a beer league softball lineup. I would have preferred they add a starting pitcher, but Joakim Soria helps the bullpen at least. This team is still highly likely to make the postseason, and probably are the favorites to host the NL Wild Card Game.

Los Angeles Dodgers (59-48, 1st in NL West)

The Dodgers have to be considered not only one of the biggest winners of the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, but also now one of the two biggest favorites in the National League.

Their deadline fun started at the All-Star Game, as they acquired star shortstop Manny Machado, who will serve as the greatest injury replacement of all time for Corey Seager, who is out for the season.

They didn’t stop there, though, as in addition to the best player moved at the deadline, they also added Brian Dozier, who is the best power-hitting second baseman in baseball and is a notorious second-half star. Their infield now looks like maybe the best in baseball, and they’ve cemented themselves at the top of the NL West.

Philadelphia Phillies (58-48, 1st in NL East)

The Phillies did pretty well at the deadline, though they did not add any true stars. They did, however, shore up their catching position with the addition of Wilson Ramos, who, when healthy, is one of the best-hitting catchers in the game. They also added the versatile Asdrubal Cabrera, who helps the infield, and also acquired a lefty for their bullpen in Aaron Loup. 

This team is still a tier or two behind the behemoths of the National League, but they got better this month and should be considered legitimate contenders for the NL East title.

Arizona Diamondbacks (59-49, 2nd in NL West)

The Dodgers may be the clear favorites out west, but the Diamondbacks aren’t just going to roll over. They couldn’t match Los Angeles’ package for Manny Machado, which was no doubt a blow, but they did manage to find a nice consolation prize in Eduardo Escobar.

They also strengthened the bullpen when they added Brad Ziegler and Jake Diekman, plus Matt Andriese is a quality addition to the pitching staff. None of these guys should be considered true difference makers, but all four will contribute down the stretch run. 

The Diamondbacks should be thought of as one of the favorites for an NL Wild Card spot, and could still find themselves challenging for the division if the Dodgers don’t completely take off.

Atlanta Braves (56-47, 2nd in NL East)

The Braves got away with grand larceny when they pried Kevin Gausman away from the black hole that is Baltimore’s pitcher development system. This has Jake Arrieta 2.0 written all over it. And, to make matters worse for Orioles fans, the Braves didn’t even have to dip into their considerable minor league depth to make the trade.

That said, Gausman isn’t consistent enough to be an ace yet, though the talent is apparent. Adam Duvall can still be a decent source of power, and they certainly added volume to the bullpen in Brad Brach and Jonny Venters, both of whom have potential to be pretty good.

Just like the Phillies, I think the Braves got better, even if they didn’t add a star. The trades are enough to legitimize themselves as contenders in the east, which is all they could have hoped for without giving up a top prospect. 

Colorado Rockies (57-48, 3rd in NL West)

The Rockies.. acquired Seung-Hwan Oh? There were lots of rumors that they were in on starting pitchers, but nothing materialized. Their record to this point in the season is impressive, and they could easily prove me wrong here, but I still see them on the outside looking in of the postseason.

Pittsburgh Pirates (56-52, 3rd in NL Central)

The Pirates just keep winning, as they’ve gone 16-4 in their last 20 games, and while no one actually believes in them as postseason contenders, the fact remains they keep winning.

They definitely improved at the deadline, as they acquired Chris Archer, who has been rumored as a major trade deadline target for years. Archer’s team-friendly deal makes him extra appealing, but while the Pirates are only a few games back of the second NL Wild Card spot, they just don’t have the talent of the teams ahead of them.

St. Louis Cardinals (54-52, 4th in NL Central)

The Cardinals can basically consider themselves out of the playoff race, though unlike the Nats they at least have a record above-.500. They didn’t go full firesale mode, but they did jettison Tommy Pham to Tampa without getting much back. I’d expect them to stick around .500, but they needed to make some big moves to actually compete, and they (smartly) elected not to.

San Francisco Giants (55-54, 4th in NL West)

The Giants mistakenly went in on 2018, and they find themselves sitting just one game above-.500. They were never really going to compete, and their lack of activity at the deadline certainly didn’t change that.

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Ryan Zimmerman is ready to rejoin Nationals, but in what capacity?

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Ryan Zimmerman is ready to rejoin Nationals, but in what capacity?

Key for Ryan Zimmerman was the simplistic act of staying on his grumpy feet for nine innings. The idea had been elusive for weeks. Zimmerman last played a full baseball game on April 27. Plantar fasciitis sent him to this fate, and each time he progressed, an ache pulled him back.

Monday, Zimmerman played nine innings for Double-A Harrisburg. He picked up two hits, but more vital was the ability to play a full game his third time on the field in four days. Zimmerman played Friday and Saturday before taking Sunday off. Tuesday becomes decision day: is Zimmerman ready to join the team Wednesday or does he have to wait? He'll wait at least another day since he is in the Senators' lineup as the designated hitter Tuesday.

There's a benefit to waiting. Washington goes to Detroit for interleague play this weekend. That affords them a chance to use the designated hitter and a window to play both Howie Kendrick and Zimmerman throughout the series without greatly taxing either.

Bringing Zimmerman back sooner also has the benefit of putting his glove on the field and expanding bench options for manager Davey Martinez. The veteran can be protected in a rotation at first base. The Nationals have Brian Dozier hitting and fielding well. Kendrick hits line drives whenever he is in the lineup. Matt Adams provides a powerful matchup option. This is how things were supposed to work from the start of the season. But, they did not come to order until late June.

Zimmerman's injury has also decided the fate of his $18 million club option for next season. It has graduated from unlikely to no chance. Though, he appears open to coming back at a much lower price. Zimmerman's body has forced him into a position of being a part-time player only, at this stage. He said last week his body "felt great" outside of the plantar fasciitis issue in his foot. Don't be surprised if he and the Nationals work something out for one more season.

For now, the club has to decide when Zimmerman will be back on the field. If he felt good Tuesday following another rehabilitation game, he could be ready as soon as Wednesday. Which prompts another decision: Do they release spirit animal Gerardo Parra to make space? Would they entertain a change for Michael A. Taylor? Something has to give if Zimmerman is finally ready.

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Nationals calling up reliever Jonny Venters

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Nationals calling up reliever Jonny Venters

The Nationals are calling up veteran left-handed reliever Jonny Venters to join the team Tuesday, according to a source.

Venters, 34, has undergone three Tommy John surgeries in between his five seasons in the major leagues. Venters entered the league in 2010 and was dominant before his first ulnar collateral ligament tear. Washington signed him May 29, then sent him to Double-A Harrisburg. Venters put together a 1.29 ERA in seven innings with the Senators.

Also joining the bullpen Tuesday is veteran Fernando Rodney. Calling up both will force the Nationals to make a 25-man roster move. Washington is likely to send down Kyle McGowin. It also needs to open a 40-man roster spot. Transferring reliever Austen Williams to the 60-day disabled list would accomplish that.

Washington's maligned bullpen comes into play Tuesday with the major league's second-worst ERA after spending the majority of the season as the league's worst  bullpen.

Venters' promotion was first reported by 106.7 The Fan.

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