As the 2010 season comes to a close, it's really easy for Nats fans to give up on the season and look to the Wizards and Redskins with hope. While we all are hopeful about Shanahan and McNabb, and we know how exciting John Wall will be this winter, there are still 12 games remaining in the season and there are a few things worth keeping your eye on. Here are five:
1. The Nats have a chance to play spoiler: 12 out of the Nats final 16 games are against the Braves or the Phillies, the two teams currently battling it out for the NL-East division lead. The Nationals have already taken two-out-of-three in their last series against Atlanta, putting the Braves in a tough situation, and they have a chance to make it interesting against the Phillies this weekend as well. It's funny to think that while we're down 24.5 games in the standings, we may be the most important factor in the division entering the final two weeks.
2. Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond become brothers: If you look around the major leagues, there are very few double-play tandems that stick out as memorable. Of course there's Jeter/Cano, but they're known for their offense. There's Ugla/Ramirez, and there's Utley/Rollins, but really in terms of star power, that's about it. The age of the superstar double-play combination seems to have past us as free-agency and weak middle infield play has made consistency up the middle a thing of the past.
With Espinosa and Desmond both rookies this year, they have a chance to grow up as major leaguers together. They will learn each others idiosyncrasies, they will learn how to work with each other, and hopefully they will become a staple in the middle infield for the next decade. While neither of them really have the potential talent to be a M.V.P candidate like Rollins, Ramirez, or Utley, they certainly have the ability to be one of the best double-play combinations by sticking together in the future. They will make their fair share of mistakes closing out the season (lord knows Desmond has had his fair share already) but that is part of the process. Enjoy watching these two grow together, it's a rare thing in baseball, but a great one.
3. Justin Maxwell's last stand: At the ripe old age of 26, Maxwell is running out of time to prove to the Nationals that he can turn his outstanding physical gifts into Major League talent. Drafted on those physical gifts alone, Maxwell has been inconsistent over the past four years, and as a college player his development rate has been incredibly slow. The Nationals were excited by his .287/.390/.439 mark in 66 games in AAA this season, but he has not been able to convert it as he's hit .145/.291/.289 in 103 MLB plate appearances this season.
With Nyjer Morgan suspended, Maxwell may get his last chance to prove to the organization he's worth keeping around. After 109 MLB games and a line of .207/.315/.389, he hasn't been very convincing. He'll need to cut down on his strikeouts (36.4% in his career), and he'll need to show the power that got him drafted out of the University of Maryland in 2005.
4. The Nationals have the most valuable player in the National League: Using Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Ryan Zimmerman is currently the most valuable player in the National League with 7.2 wins. That puts him ahead of likely NL MVP candidates Joey Votto (6.8) and Albert Pujols (6.3). It also probably makes him the most underrated player in Major League Baseball, as very few people would actually name him among baseballs top five, or even top 10 players. Zimmerman is ranked so high not only because of his .905 OPS and .392 wOBA, but also because of his major league leading 15.9 UZR, which is the highest among all infielders in baseball.
While he may have only helped the Nationals to a 62-85 record this season, he has easily been on of the best players in baseball. He won't help them make the playoffs in these final days, but you should go to the park to get to watch one of the best and most exciting baseball players in the country.
5. Will Nyjer Morgan be allowed back? There has been lots of speculation that the Nationals wish to be done with Nyjer Morgan at the seasons end. He has been an attitude problem and a distraction both on the field and in the club house. He is now serving an eight game suspension which will last almost until the last game of the season, but not quite. With mixed feelings towards Morgan in the front office, will they let him back on the field after his suspension? Or will they begin the process of cutting ties immediately.
There's nothing like a good soap opera in sports, especially if you're in last place.