It is still early in the baseball season and yet it feels like it is over. The Nationals are 10 games over .500, while the second-place Braves are six games under. The National League East is a weak division and the Nationals are a team built to contend while the Mets are hampered by extraordinary bad luck, the Marlins have zero identity and an uncertain future, and the Braves and Phillies are both rebuilding teams on the right track but a year or two away from contention. The Nationals are alone in this division.
The only mystery in the NL East is whether the Nationals bullpen blows enough games to keep the division race even moderately close before general manager Mike Rizzo can make a trade - and Rizzo will make a trade. The terrible state of the Nationals bullpen is a mystery to nobody. At some point this season, the Nationals are going to fix their biggest flaw, but with the current state of the division and no rival in sight, they can wait for the market to come to then.
I can say with certainty if the Nationals were four games up in the division, Yoenis Céspedes and Noah Syndergaard were healthy and Matt Harvey hadn’t lost his mind, yesterday’s 10-4 loss to the Pirates would have bothered me. It would have bothered me a great deal. Instead, I feel nothing. The Nationals are already running away with the division and while it still feels early, they won’t be caught. The focus will be on the bullpen and how it gets fixed, but the Nationals aren’t being caught by any of the teams in the NL East.
When the bullpen gets fixed is an interesting discussion. Members of the media keep saying the Royals are ready to put anyone and everyone on the market and start trading, but I doubt that. The Royals exist to make money for the Royals and not to make contending teams better for the stretch run. Punting the season a month and a half in is much different than trading veterans a year or two away from leaving in late July to call up future stars from the minors. It’s much easier to sell the latter as a new brand of hope and keep whatever walk-up ticket sales you can get in a lost season.
The baseball season is a long way from over, but in many ways it already is. In 2014 and 2016, it become a certainty at a point that the Nationals would reach the playoffs and it became difficult to not just want them to start. This season, it’s happening in May and it was only a couple months ago I was following workouts from Florida on my phone because I’d been so starved for baseball. The Nationals’ race against the NL East is like watching LeBron James play a retirement home rec team. You know the outcome and it’s not going to provide much suspense.
The Nats offense versus the Nats bullpen is what the NL East comes down to. The Nationals are racing themselves. Can the offense keep piling up runs faster than the bullpen can give them back and at what point will Rizzo go out an acquire a reliever to fix what ails the Nationals? Those are all the questions that remain for this season. With all that being said, the Nationals could sustain a rash of surprise injuries and start falling back to the pack, but they are eight games up on a bunch of under-.500 teams that all have bigger mountains to climb. It’s time to sit back, watch baseball, and wait for the inevitable D.C. sports playoff heartbreak.
David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals at Citizens of Natstown. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHuzzard. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. 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 regular roster of writers.