Believe it or not, the Nationals only have 52 games left this season. We have hit the home stretch of the summer.
Obviously, this franchise is going in a different direction than it has in the past. Selling your best players in back-to-back trade deadlines will do that.
But with sell-offs come exciting prospects and opportunities for young players to play for a spot on the roster for the remainder of the season and in the future.
Guys are going to get the chance to play and the Nationals will be watching.
“Yeah, I want to see these guys,” manager Davey Martinez said before yesterday’s finale in Philadelphia. “I want to see as many guys as I can play. Like I said, we're building for the future. But that being said, you're also trying to compete today. So I want to see these guys go out there and compete, and see which guys go out there and battle and play the game. It's a time where it's frustrating because we're not winning games. But it's also a time that we can learn a lot about the guys that we have moving forward.”
With that being said, let’s take a look at some position battles to keep an eye on over these last two months of the season …
We received some clarity on the infield Saturday, when Martinez said Luis García has been working at second base in anticipation of C.J. Abrams’ arrival in the coming weeks. Abrams, one of prospects the Nationals received in the Juan Soto-Josh Bell trade with the Padres, is highly touted for his defense at shortstop. And when you acquire a player of his caliber, you play him at his position.
This was the assumption from the moment the trade became official last Tuesday. But since Abrams wasn’t immediately joining the Nationals, it was also thought that García had some time to prove that he can stick at shortstop.
It looks like the Nats have already made the decision to play Abrams at short and move García over to second base, where he’s played in 96 games over his first two years in the major leagues.
So that brings up everyone else in the infield. With García likely moving to second, César Hernández seems to be heading for the bench. But he’s also taken grounders at third base and shortstop, with Martinez also mentioning he might get some work done in the outfield.
Ildemaro Vargas has played three out of his four games at third, with one game at short, taking time away from Maikel Franco. Joey Meneses played his first three games at first base, but Luke Voit will take the majority of those at-bats now. Meneses did play left field on Saturday.
Riley Adams is getting more work done at first base with Triple-A Rochester, with the idea of trying him in the outfield also floated around.
That’s a nice segue into the outfield.
With Soto gone, Victor Robles, Lane Thomas and Yadiel Hernandez are going to play a lot.
Can Robles prove that he’s a long-term piece to build around? Can Thomas continue to show his value as the return for trading Jon Lester to the Cardinals at last year’s deadline? Can Yadiel Hernandez, the 34-year-old who is under team control until he’s 40, still be one of the better left-handed bats in this lineup?
Then there’s Josh Palacios, the 27-year-old who has played four games in right field since coming up this week.
Donovan Casey, part of the four-player package for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner last year, is at Rochester, where he hasn’t been hitting well and moved to the bottom of the lineup. He was brought up to the major league roster earlier this year, but never made his debut and hasn’t been producing at Triple-A since.
The Nationals did claim outfielder Alex Call off waivers from the Guardians and optioned him to Rochester yesterday. The 27-year-old made his major league debut for Cleveland this season, playing in just 12 games.
The rotation is a tricky one because there are a lot of moving parts.
Josiah Gray is going to finish out the season, with the Nationals maybe giving him some extra rest here and there to make sure he can do so and stay healthy.
Patrick Corbin, of course, is a big question mark. He hasn’t pitched out of the first inning in two of his last three starts, and he’s on pace to become the first 20-loss starting pitcher with an ERA above 7.00 in almost two decades.
After Saturday’s abysmal start, there was some talk with Martinez about possibly moving Corbin to the bullpen. But those conversations are still ongoing. And Corbin’s contract complicates things.
Then there are 38-year-old Aníbal Sánchez and 35-year-old Paolo Espino making regular starts. But for how much longer? They’re both scheduled to start again this week against the Cubs.
Cory Abbott pitched five shutout innings against the Mets on Tuesday, but he was tagged for seven runs and four home runs yesterday against the Phillies.
The real rotation questions revolve around the prospects. The Nationals believe MacKenzie Gore will be able to return from left elbow inflammation before the end of the season.
Cade Cavalli, the Nats’ No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, struck out four while giving up two runs and three walks in five innings Sunday. He’s 4-4 with a 4.02 ERA in 18 starts at Rochester this season. But the Nats have maintained they are going to be patient with their top pitching prospect, wanting to see more consistency at Triple-A before bringing him up for his big league debut.
Joan Adon is always a candidate to come back to Washington to make starts, but he’s had his fair share already. Over 14 starts with the Nats this season, the right-hander is 1-12 with a 7.10 ERA. Adon hasn’t pitched since early July as the Nationals have been giving him some rest at Triple-A while he works on some things.
Cole Henry, the Nats’ No. 5 prospect, remains on the seven-day injured list at Rochester and hasn’t pitched since June 11.
As for the strength of this team, the bullpen doesn't really have a lot of spots up for grabs. Everyone except Steve Cishek is under team control beyond this year, so the Nationals are just looking for them all to finish strong.
Rosters expand to 28 players in September, with two more spots opening up for players to compete at the major leagues.