In a pair of answers during his weekly chat, Post columnist Thomas Boswell addressed a little-discussed factor for these Nationals: their age. The first answer came when a reader wondered about Washington’s representation at Tuesday’s All-Star Game, because neither Max Scherzer nor Anthony Rendon will play. Boswell’s response:
Max will be there, smiling and giving interviews. But no Nats will be there to play. I was struck by how forcefully both Rendon and Scherzer made the point that the main reason they were using (real) nagging injuries as an excuse not to play was because they were so focused on the possibilities of the Nats’ season.
Max on Sunday: “Our season matters so much more than the All-Star Game.”
Rendon on Friday: “Since the game really doesn’t mean too much at the moment, except for personal reasons, we have bigger fish to fry here in D.C. So we’re trying to get everyone healthy, and I’m a part of that as well, so I want to be a big threat for the second half.”
In this era when over-30 players are supposed to be of little or no use, the Nats have one of the most veteran teams I have ever seen. Guess how many Nats (on Sunday) were 30 or older. Seventeen! In no order, here are their ages: 31, 30, 32, 30, 35, 35, 34, 32, 34, 30, 35, 33, 30, 32, 34, 42 and 35. Match 'em up, if you want.
This is a go-for-it-now team, especially with a Big Three of Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, a good Game 4 starter in Aníbal Sánchez, a fine closer and an above-average offense (now that it’s healthy), plus a good playoff-suited bench with Howie Kendrick/Brian Dozier, Gerardo Parra, Matt Adams/Ryan Zimmerman and Kurt Suzuki/Yan Gomes.
Whether they are right, the Nats think that with reasonably good health — which may not be possible with such an elderly team — they can play anybody head-to-head in October: the Braves, Cubs or even the very impressive Dodgers.
The best thing they have going for them is that they caught up to the pack — and are already in a wild-card spot — before the all-star break. They don’t have to come back grinding on every pitch and playing 50 games in a row, as some have recently, because they are scared to death that a few losses will throw their season over the cliff. They can breathe. Not “breathe easy,” but not worry constantly.
The Nats’ schedule is certainly harder after the break. But I wouldn’t call it brutal. More “very interesting.” They have lots of games left against the Mets, who make a dumpster fire smell good, and the Phillies, who have major problems — including bone spurs in Jake Arrieta’s elbow that will be examined this week to find out if he needs season-ending surgery.
When looking ahead, don’t just ask, “What was this team’s preseason expectation?” Ask, “Is this team any darn good right now?” Playing the Mets and Marlins six times each in the second half looks like an invitation to succeed. Also, eight with the Phils and 14 with the Braves should be seen as challenging but welcome opportunities.
If you aren’t good enough to win the division, so be it. If you are, do it, and learn from the testing. Also, after July 31, the Nats will have plenty of games against teams that will, or may be, sellers at the trade deadline.
(It will be interesting to see if the Mets admit what a mess they are and “sell” even though it’s yet another PR blow.)
Later, another reader asked about Zimmerman’s future, both this season and beyond. Boswell’s answer:
Whatever happens, I’d say it’s 98 percent he ends up his career as a Nat, not going somewhere else for one last fling.
His old shoulder injury has healed over the years. That’s why he can still hit — his on-base-plus-slugging percentage in his last 1,007 plate appearances (2017-19) is .873. Bryce Harper’s career OPS is .894. In this time frame, Zim has 52 homers and 172 RBI. The Nats are lucky to have Matt Adams, too — from 2017 to 2019 he’s had 882 plate appearances with 54 home runs and 158 RBI.
There’s room on this team for Zim, Adams, Dozier and Kendrick. You just have to figure out how to use them. But it’s a good problem, because all are team-first guys. Kendrick is 35 and, after last year, has to be considered breakable. Adams tends to fade if used too much. Dozier can use some days off, although he’d never say that — even to himself. He’d play 163 a year if they’d let him.
Zim’s only real physical problem (aside from his throwing motion, which had to change to accommodate his multiple shoulder surgeries) is his heel. That’s what, I assume, is going to end his career, even though he can still hit. He’d looked pretty good for two games before his three-double game Friday night, complete with those two ridiculous/heroic headfirst slides. Looks to me like he’s ready for one of his hot streaks. But can he still run the bases, even by slow-old-guy standards? Should he just play against lefties — whom he has always killed?
Dave Martinez and the Nats say he is still their starting first baseman. That isn’t the $18 million contract talking, I don’t think. They just see him as a thoroughbred, albeit a battered one, who should be part of this one final run in his era.
I’ve wondered if Zim has a future as a low-priced bench bat for the 2020 Nats. Right now, it doesn’t look like it to me. But folks who want to rush this guy off the stage have it all wrong. Get the last drop out of him. As you saw Friday, he can still hit.
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