The win streak might be over, but the hopes and dreams of the Washington Nationals and its fans are not. The time is ripe for the team to begin their plans to turn this gritty team into a well oiled machine of contention.
So the Washington Nationals impressive winning streak came to an end on Father's Day Sunday. The streak dead-ended at eight games and a .500 record remained elusive. They played the worst baseball they've played in nearly two weeks and lost to the Baltimore Orioles 7-4. Bummer.
But hey, lets not hang our heads about it. It was a brilliant eight games full of baseball that D.C. expects its team to play. No one in their right mind can scoff at an eight-game win streak, I know several teams in the NL East alone that would love to be coming off an eight-game win streak right now. That is not even mentioning the guts, grit and desire the team showed in battling back to striking distance of .500 and into third place in the division. Not only that, but hundreds of people (myself included) have enjoyed free wings at Hard Times Cafe after cashing in their tickets of games the Nationals scored six runs or more. The Nationals made that happen and it came at the expense of William DeWitt Jr. and Peter Angelos. Cheers, fellows.
So the next question is: what's next, Nationals? What comes now that the streak, the best the team has had since 2009, is over?
Well, certainly more baseball games and hopefully another streak, but the Nationals might be in a position to start the machine, get the ball rolling and fulfilling the "Prophecy:" a playoff push in 2012. This recent string of winning could be the spark. Winning streaks are funny things. They work a certain kind of voodoo on the team and the fans themselves. They can work team and fan into a frenzy, put them in a euphoria and -- sometimes for better and sometimes for worse -- act as a catalyst. Of course, the team has been working on building steam and preparing for the push before this, but before they did not have evidence or a sample of the fruits of their labor. Now they have something to show off.
In all honesty, the 2011 Washington Nationals are not a playoff team. They have strong pieces in the foundation, but the girders and the plumbing haven't arrived yet to hold up the structure and make it function. If the Nationals were actually fortunate enough to take a wild card spot, the chances of them going deep into the playoffs is slim. There is too much meat on the bone in some places and not enough in others. It is time to stream line. Already the ideas, good and bad are pouring in with fervor on how to do this. Thank the streak. Washington has tasted blood and it wants more: there will be red and there will most certainly be change to get it.
The Nationals can start by trimming the fat. Get rid of players that really have no place on the team or its future plans. You can't start any conversation of this type without mentioning Matt Stairs and his .119 batting average. He was a great player in his time, but the experiment is a failure, Mr. Rizzo. You can find washed up Triple-A players who can come off the bench hotter than that, and probably come cheaper if that is possible. The guy's position is DH on the Nationals' official homepage, for Pete's sake.
Other position players that probably should be on the chopping block are Brian Bixler, Rick Ankiel, and even Adam LaRoche, as much as it pains me to say it. LaRoche is a class act, but the fact is the Nationals will possibly be pushing in 2012. LaRoche is coming off shoulder surgery and is a notoriously slow starter anyways. I just can't see there being a lot of patience for him. He has a bit of a contract, but if they can find a way, the Nationals should probably cut ties.
There are a few pitchers the Nationals should consider cutting bait and running from as well. Without a doubt, if you can get anything for Todd Coffey then you make that trade. The same is for Doug Slaten who just has let too many inherited runners score. I would also be open to any ideas anyone has about relievers Craig Stammen and Collin Balester even. They are serviceable, but I'm not sure how much more you are going to get from them that we haven't already seen. Starting pitchers are harder to part with, but Livan Hernandez, with his off field troubles, might and probably should be a goner. Tom Gorzelanny has had a few jewels, but not enough to not make him expendable. I would even suggest moving John Lannan, although the Nationals would certainly have to get something in return.
The Nationals can build the machine by subtracting certain parts, but that doesn't mean they don't keep others. It is absolutely ridiculous to want to just up and trade players like Jason Marquis and Tyler Clippard. An aggressive veteran in the rotation and one of the best relievers in the league are hard to come by. Michael Morse has even been mentioned, and while the jury might still be out, I wouldn't part with him just yet unless something really good comes along.
Then of course the Nationals need to add pieces through trades, signings and call-ups. Having the richest owners in baseball hungry for success with their backs to the wall thanks to 2012 promises might be enough to put them into action.
Perhaps, I am wrong and I too am caught up in the mirage winning streaks sometimes cause. Time and the very next game will tell. It will be the next game and how the Nationals react from losing their win streak that will show what sort of character this team has. Will they win and the catalyst continues or will they lose and revert back to a team in despair? I'll certainly be eating my leftover chicken wings and watching.