TBOH MLB September Power Ranking
By Matt Veasey
3. WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Looking for my choice for a team that is already a strong contender, but not the favorite in their own league, and yet which could take off and win the whole thing going away? Here they are.
The Nats are on top of the National League East Division race by a comfy 8.5 games with just 24 left to play, their ‘Magic Number’ to clinch now at 17 with the 2nd place Mets.
While New York has gotten hot, they have been unable to make up ground on the Nationals, who have led the division since mid-May, and who have trailed the race for just four days, never by more than a half-game.
The Nationals have won seven of their last 11 games to maintain their lead. And they have the ability to get even better, because frankly a few of their key stars are having somewhat down seasons.
The lead example of that is right fielder Bryce Harper. The 23-year old has followed up his other-worldly NL MVP campaign a year ago with a season in which he has hit “only” 23 homers, driven in 76 runs, and scored 75 times while hitting for a .251/.383/.465 slash line.
While some have wondered what’s wrong with him, my answer would be “nothing at all”, and watch him turn it on down the stretch. Harper is a true red-light player, and if does indeed hit that next gear over the next 7-8 weeks, this franchise could win its first-ever World Series.
They could win that title even if he simply continues as a good player. Daniel Murphy continues to have an NL MVP caliber season at 2nd base, while catcher Wilson Ramos, outfielder Jayson Werth, shortstop Danny Espinosa, 3rd baseman Anthony Rendon, and exciting rookie Trea Turner all extend a lineup that has numerous weapons.
On the mound, Max Scherzer is the leader right now in the NL Cy Young Award conversation. Lefty veteran Gio Gonzalez remains steady, while righty Tanner Roark has been one of the league’s top breakout performers this season.
A huge key for the Nationals could well be the physical status of power right-handed starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg. On the DL with right elbow soreness, he is due to try to come back this week.
If Strasburg returns fully healthy to dominating form, the Nationals are that much stronger in their World Series hopes. However, Strasburg has already had one Tommy John surgery. Another might not end his career, but it would be a crippling longterm blow to him and the organization.
The Nats have a number of interesting replacement options available. Joe Ross could end up returning from his own lengthy DL stint to either a starting or bullpen role, and talented prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, each of whom has already seen MLB action this year, could provide some key late innings.
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