- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Baseball’s offseason is often called the Hot Stove League, so named because fans in the old days would pass time during the cold winter months by sitting around a hot stove and talking about what moves they’d like to see their teams make.

This month, perhaps, can be called the Microwave League. The second half of the season is upon us and the trading deadline is the end of the month. Teams in need of a quick fix are looking to heat something up and make a push toward the playoffs.

Here’s what the Nationals need to stick in that microwave as the deadline approaches: nothing.

That’s right, nothing.

This season has not been the dream season many expected back in March, when the Nats made the cover of several magazines and were the trendy pick to win the World Series. They won 98 games in the 2012 regular season, more than any other team. They looked just as strong going into 2013. Yet they sit at 48-47, six games behind the Braves in the National League East and a long shot to make postseason.

Would a quick fix of some sort help? Perhaps, but it is no guarantee. And a quality quick fix would probably require the team to break up part of the core that makes the Nats a viable contender well beyond this season.

So do nothing, and hope. Hope the second half is much better. Hope the Braves come back to the pack a little bit. Hope the playoffs still happen.

If they do, great. If they don’t, well, isn’t this team still set up for long-term success? Even with all the right pieces, there’s no guarantee. The Nats won’t be the first playoff-quality team to miss the playoffs and they won’t be the last.

If the Nats believe they have a solid foundation for the future (and they do believe that and they do have that), chalk it up as a year when things didn’t work.

A year ago, everything seemed to work in the Nats’ favor. Sure, they had some injuries. Every team has injuries. Other players filled in admirably and none of those injuries affected the starting pitchers. This year, others have not stepped up. Three members of the rotation have spent time on the disabled list and now All-Star Jordan Zimmermann is dealing with a troublesome neck.

Some bad breaks and a lot of bad baseball have the Nats in the position they’re in now.

What move can they make that will change that? Adding a starting pitcher would be nice, but at what price? David Price? Acquiring someone of that caliber would require giving up a player or prospect (or both) of the kind that would hurt. Acquiring a lesser pitcher might not cost a key piece, but it also probably wouldn’t be an upgrade.

Dan Haren hasn’t been a raging success as a free-agent signee. Save for his first inning back from the disabled list, he’s been pretty good since returning. Would a painless-to-add addition give the Nats any more than rookie Taylor Jordan has given them? Or what a post-DL Haren has shown? Likely not.

Improvement, if it comes, will have to come with what’s already on hand and what’s here is capable of doing it.

There’s no reason to break up a core that still appears strong, no reason to panic and change course because the season isn’t going well.

Top-line starters Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Zimmermann have all made the All-Star team as Nationals. Zimmermann has been strong all year, Strasburg and Gonzalez have recovered from a shaky start to be their usual selves from May forward. It’s as good a trio at the top of rotation as any in baseball. And it is under team control for the foreseeable future.

Bryce Harper, the franchise’s centerpiece, will be around for a while assuming a run-in with the wall doesn’t do extreme damage. Ian Desmond, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos — the offense has some long-term stability.

The bullpen has been better of late and contains several long-term pieces.

Would another reliever, another starter, some bench help be of some benefit? Sure, but those are pieces that can be added easily enough in the offseason. There’s no need to do it now, unless it comes at almost no price like the recent addition of Scott Hairston (who struck out twice in key situations last weekend).

Save the microwave for some popcorn. The present isn’t quite what anyone expected. The Nationals’ future is still solid. One disappointing season doesn’t change that, unless the Nats let it.

• Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@washingtontimes.com.

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