It's getting to be the time of the year when folks start turning their attention away from baseball and on to other pursuits. The kids are going back to school, football season kicks off next week and, before you know it, it's going to start getting chilly and hockey and basketball will begin again. With the local teams out of the pennant race, it would be easy to ignore their September progress, but real baseball fans will want to stay tuned.
The Washington Nationals could be on the cusp of finally fielding a truly competitive team and with rosters expanding Sept. 1, fans will get a look at some of the young talent the organization has been cultivating in the minor leagues. The Nats recalled first baseman Chris Marrero on Saturday and Marrero could see a good bit of playing time at first base the rest of the way with team MVP Michael Morse switching back to left field.
Marrero, 23, is the first of a bumper crop of minor leaguers that will get an opportunity to get their feet wet over the last 30 games of the season. The 6-foot-3, 210-lb. hit .300/.375/.449 with 14 homers and 69 RBIs in 127 games with Triple-A Syracuse this year. In six seasons in the minors, Marrero has hit .285/.353/.457. Marrero collected three hits in eight at-bats over the weekend, but also made two errors in his debut. He'll be fun to watch down the stretch, and even if Adam LaRoche forces him back to the minors at the start of next season, he could very well be a fixture for this team in the near future.
In a couple of days, the team is expected to recall right-hander Brad Peacock and left-hander Tom Milone from Syracuse, as well. Manager Davey Johnson has mentioned several times that he's anxious to get these guys up and test them at this level. Both players have put together terrific campaigns and have earned the promotions.
Milone, 24, is 11-6 with a 3.33 ERA and 1.047 WHIP in 23 starts. He's struck out 149 in 143 1/3 innings, walking just 14. All this with a fastball that tops out at 87 miles per hour. Peacock, 23, has fairly dominated two levels of minor leagues this year, going 10-2 in Double-A Harrisburg and 4-1 with Syracuse. Overall, he owns a 2.48 ERA and 0.981 WHIP, striking out 170 and walking 46 in 141 1/3 innings. Peacock was selected for and pitched a scoreless inning in the Futures Game over the All-Star break. He has a deceptive delivery and is very easy-going, sure to be a fan favorite.
Then, of course, there's the second coming. The Nationals hope to activate Stephen Strasburg on the next homestand after missing the entire season rehabbing from ligament replacement surgery. He's had some struggles in his minor league assignments, but Saturday night he lit up Triple-A Rochester, throwing a perfect game through five innings. He gave up hits to the first two batters he faced in the sixth, and one of them came around after he'd left the game. But he struck out seven in the appearance and seemed to have all of his pitches working. Strasburg has followed team doctors' and trainers' instructions during his rehab to a letter, and these September starts have been a singular source of inspiration for Strasburg to maintain diligence in his rehab. His hard work will soon come to fruition.
The Nats are not in contention, and with the team suffering a six-game losing streak last week, they really don't have a shot at the elusive .500 mark for the season any more. But far as talent evaluation goes, the next 30 games are far from meaningless and will provide Nats fans with a glimpse into the future.
Dave Nichols covers the Washington Nationals for Nationals News Network. Read Nichols' Nationals observations as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.