There was a time not too long ago when the Nationals were being given 100/1 odds to win the World Series.
At the All-Star break this year, the Nats' odds of being the last team standing are 11/1, according to Bovada.
The Nationals are behind only the Yankees (9/2) and Rangers (5/1) when it comes to overall odds to win the World Series. Bovada has the Nats' odds of winning the National League pennant at 9/2 and has them the clear favorites to come away with the NL East, putting them at 4/5 to win the division.
Their chances at a playoff run will only improve once Drew Storen and Chad Tracy return from their rehab assignments. Both guys have missed significant time due to elbow surgery and groin surgery, respectively, but could return shortly after the break.
The problem will be finding room for them on the 25-man roster.
As I mentioned earlier, Storen threw another scoreless inning for Single-A Potomac yesterday, and might be ready to be activated on Friday. Who would he replace? That's not a simple question, largely due to the fact that there isn't anyone in the Nationals' bullpen performing poorly.
Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Craig Stammen aren't going anywhere. Tom Gorzelanny has been solid and locks down a valuable role as a left-handed long-reliever. The Nats are determined to hold on to Henry Rodriguez, who is inconsistent but has tons of potential and has pitched fairly well since coming off the DL.
That leaves two bullpen guys who could be on the proverbial bubble - right-hander Ryan Mattheus and lefty Michael Gonzalez.
Both guys have stellar first-half numbers. Mattheus has a 1.82 ERA and 21 strikeouts to just nine walks while allowing five of 18 inherited runners to score over 29 appearances. He's also highly thought of by manager Davey Johnson. Gonzalez has a 1.50 ERA, has delivered a scoreless outing in 16 of his 17 appearances and has let four of 14 inherited runners score.
A key factor here is that Mattheus still can be optioned to the minor leagues and kept under team control, while Gonzalez would need to pass through waivers if he was dropped off the active roster. Then there's also the lefty/righty aspect to consider, as Johnson might prefer to keep another left-hander in the 'pen to match up in the mid-to-late innings.
When Tracy is ready to return, the Nationals will have another tough decision to make.
The Nationals' bench right now is made up of two veterans who play important roles in the clubhouse but haven't put up big offensive numbers this season (Mark DeRosa and Rick Ankiel), two rookies who have been quite valuable in the first half (Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore), and a guy with raw talent who doesn't do anything exceptionally well but can do a little bit of everything (Roger Bernadina).
Do the Nats let go one of the veterans and risk the team chemistry taking a bit of a hit? Do they sacrifice defense for offense and let a strong defender in Ankiel go? Do they try and keep control of as many major league-caliber players as possible by optioning Moore back to Triple-A? Do they cut ties with Bernadina?
The Nationals will be getting back some proven players, but will have tough calls to make on how to squeeze them onto the active roster.