The Nationals can be viewed as either one of the luckiest teams in baseball or one of the unluckiest. But there is a third option and that is that general manager Mike Rizzo knows what he is doing. I would have said before this season that if the Nationals don’t have a deep playoff run, Rizzo is as good as gone as GM. There are just some GMs, good enough to rebuild a team but not good at putting those final pieces in place to win it all. Rizzo has started to look like the latter, but this season has changed my mind.
General managers are like captains of a ship and the 2017 were surprised by a sudden hurricane upon the waters. First came the Adam Eaton injury, then Jayson Werth, then Trea Turner and finally Bryce Harper. One by one, the Nationals lineup was beset upon and whittled down to its bones. There is hardly anything left of the strong middle of the order the Nats assembled, and if it weren’t for a resurgent Ryan Zimmerman and an MVP-type season from Anthony Rendon, the Nationals would have nothing. But that is not entirely true.
Michael A. Taylor, Adam Lind, Brian Goodwin and Wilmer Difo have all played above expectations. It can be argued that Rizzo has little to do with any of this and it is all a stroke of luck, but he did stick with Taylor, Goodwin and Difo through some disappointing times and sign Lind this past offseason. Then there is the trade that brought Howie Kendrick to D.C. Kendrick was having a good but injury-filled season for the Phillies. It has been another move that has worked out beyond all rational explanation.
It can be argued that Rizzo bet on internal options in the bullpen to start the season and lost, but he did make adjustments and acquired three top relievers that have done nothing but shut down the opposition. With Ryan Madson headed to the DL, the bullpen could go back to being a hold-your-breath-and-pray experience or Shawn Kelley could regain his 2016 form and no one will miss a beat. A quick recovery from Madson would be best for all parties involved and the sooner he can rejoin Sean Doolittle and Brandon Kintzler at the back of the bullpen, the better.
Starting pitching hasn’t been free of its injuries and Edwin Jackson has filled in better than anyone could have expected for Joe Ross. The Nats have a cobbled together lineup, a duct-tape rotation and a bullpen that was repaired mid-season and are still 14 games up in the division. If I had been told the injuries the Nats would suffer this season, I’d have never believed they’d be in this position in late August. It is enough of a miracle that I wonder if the injuries aren’t strokes of bad luck but sacrifices to ancient gods to ensure victory.
Every replacement that has been put into place has come close to matching the ability of the player they replaced and the Nationals haven’t missed a beat. They are cruising to their fourth division title in six seasons and first back-to-back division titles in team history. If they do suffer another early exit in the playoffs, I am of the opinion that Rizzo’s job is safe because the moves he made got the Nationals into this position in the first place. It is scary to think where they’d be if someone else were in charge.
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.