WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Washington Nationals' deficit out of first place would almost be in double digits if they were part of the National League Central, the best and most competitive division in the majors. Instead, Washington is trying to find traction in the NL East slog, where the Braves desperately need relief help; the Phillies' slumping Bryce Harper is looking to build on his monster homer from Saturday; the Mets might soon be on to their next manager; and the Marlins could struggle to get to 50 wins.
The working theory in the Nationals clubhouse is that it's still early. And that there's still time for a turnaround behind the rotation of Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg. And that the team will stabilize now that Trea Turner is back at shortstop, while wearing a protective splint on his fractured index finger -- and with Turner at short, Washington's hopes for a greatly improved defense in 2019 have a better chance of being realized.
But what if Washington doesn't bounce back? Rival evaluators probably will salivate over the Nationals' roster as they look for difference-making trade targets before the July 31 deadline. Last summer, the Nationals swapped Brandon Kintzler, Daniel Murphy and others, and they seriously engaged the Astros and other teams about a possible Harper trade, so Washington's ownership has demonstrated it will embrace a reality check.