Their closer has blown three saves and put at least two men on base in eight of his last 13 appearances. Their rookie phenom is mired in the first prolonged slump of his life, one that has lasted nearly two months. Their catchers have thrown out exactly one of the last 43 opponents who have tried to steal a base against them.Their All-Star shortstop is out until September. Their highest-paid player just returned from a three-month stint on the disabled list and already had to miss a game because his legs were tired. And their staff ace is going to be shut down for the remainder of the season in about a month.Oh, did we mention the Nationals have baseball's best record and are now on pace to win 99 games in 2012?If you prevented yourself from checking the standings over the past few weeks, you might very well have come away convinced the Nationals are in trouble. They haven't exactly played like the best team in the majors.But this might be the true confirmation of Washington's new-found status as a baseball powerhouse. Even when they're not playing their best, they're still winning more regularly than any other club in the sport.Why? Because they're loaded with superior talent, up and down the roster.The rotation isn't just Stephen Strasburg and four guys who take up space. Jordan Zimmermann has the NL's second-best ERA. Gio Gonzalez has the fourth-most strikeouts. Edwin Jackson has completed seven or more innings seven times. And Ross Detwiler, with another strong performance last night, now boasts a 2.99 ERA (ninth-best in the NL).The lineup is as deep with potent bats as just about any other in the NL. Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth ... what team wouldn't take that quintet, or sextet once Desmond returns from his oblique tear? And even when those stalwarts struggle to produce on a given night, Davey Johnson merely turns to someone else for clutch hits, whether it's Danny Espinosa (who drove in all three runs last night), Chad Tracy or Roger Bernadina.And there are few slicker-fielding clubs than this one, from Zimmerman's Gold Glove at third base to LaRoche's steadying influence at first base to Bernadina's game-saving ability in center field. (And if you saw his jaw-dropping conclusion to last night's victory in Houston, you know just how important Bernadina has become to this team.)Point is, the Nationals aren't winning games because of the contributions of one or two big names. They're winning games because night in and night out, they manage to get contributions from just about everybody on the roster.And through the season's first four months, they continue to get better.At the one-quarter pole, the Nationals were on pace to win 93 games. At the one-third pole, the pace went up to 96 wins. At the halfway mark, they were holding steady at a 96-win pace. And now that they're just surpassed the two-thirds mark, they've upped the rate to 99 wins.That's a pretty good sign. While other clubs endure through roller-coaster seasons, riding long winning streaks one week and then falling into the abyss the next, the Nationals have been remarkably consistent.There have been only three 10-game stretches this season in which the Nationals lost more games than they won: April 19-May 1 (4-6), June 15-25 (3-7) and July 8-21 (4-6). That's it. Those don't even qualify as troublesome losing streaks.That most recent downturn ended after the first game of the July 21 doubleheader against the Braves. At that moment, the Nationals had seen their lead over Atlanta dwindle to 1 12 games. Then John Lannan was called up from Class AAA to make a spot start and pitched a gem, and ever since then the Nats are 14-4.Are there some things to be concerned about with this team? Sure. They're by no means perfect, and some questions have been raised in recent days.But there's simply too much talent on that roster to let the little hiccups cascade into major headaches.This just in: The Nationals are the best team in baseball at this moment. And there's nothing fluky about it.
Nationals star Bryce Harper has had an eventful week, which included finding out that he might not be the Nationals star much longer.
An anonymous club executive said that the Nationals won't meet Harper's demands for a 10-year, $400 million contract, and are prepared to let him walk when he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season.
That happened on Monday, then on Tuesday Washington missed out on trading from White Sox ace Chris Sale, who ended up going to Boston.
And then on Wednesday, the Nats ended up trading their pile of top pitching prospects to the White Sox anyway, but instead of getting Sale, they got centerfielder Adam Eaton.
Eaton, 28, has never been an All-Star. But he finished last season with a .284 batting average, .362 slugging percentage, 59 RBIs and 14 home runs. He's also an asset defensively in the outfield.
But the pitching prospects Washington gave up – Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning – amounted to a steep price for Eaton. So steep that the Nats reportedly offered almost the same package of prospects for Sale.
Within minutes of the Eaton trade news breaking, Harper tweeted this.
Wow...— Bryce Harper (@Bharper3407) December 7, 2016
He followed it up with a message of welcome a few minutes later.
Welcome to DC A.E! Let's get it done #nationals— Bryce Harper (@Bharper3407) December 7, 2016
Obviously, the initial tweet is what grabbed peoples' attention. But who can really say if Harper meant it as a positive or negative reaction to the Eaton trade? Frankly, it might not have anything to do with the trade at all.
Plenty of other "wow" things happened this week.
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The Washington Nationals were unable to trade the farm to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for former Cy Young winner Chris Sale. But still looking to make a splash, the Nationals went back to the White Sox, and have made a deal.
Multiple sources have confirmed that the Nationals will trade Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and 2016 first-round pick Dane Dunning to the White Sox for outfielder Adam Eaton, pending physicals.
Eaton, 28 years old, will be entering his sixth season, having played two seasons with the Diamondbacks and two season with the White Sox.
Eaton has never made an All-Star team, but has a solid OBP of .357 and has back-to-back seasons of 14 home runs and at least 50 RBIs. He also has a very friendly contract, having recently signed a five-year, $23.5 million contract.
In return, the White Sox get a treasure trove of prospects.
Giolito is the top prospect in the Nationals' organization and one of the top prospects in all of MLB. He appeared in six games for the nationals in 2016, finishing with a 6.75 ERA and 11 strikeouts. Lopez, the No. 4 prospect in the organization, appeared in 11 games in 2016, finishing with a 4.91 ERA and 42 strikeouts.
Dunning, one of the ace of the Florida Gators' staff, was selected by the Nationals with the 29th pick of the 2016 MLB Draft.
But considering the Nationals were willing to give up numerous top prospects for Chris Sale or Andrew McCutchen, it's puzzling that the Nationals would receive just Eaton in return.
The Nationals offered Giolito, Lopez, Dunning, and Robles for Chris Sale. They just traded Giolito, Lopez, and Dunning for Adam Eaton.— Jorge Castillo (@jorgeccastillo) December 7, 2016
Heading into the 2016 winter meetings, it was well known that the Nationals were interested in making a big splash and shaking things up.
Wow...— Bryce Harper (@Bharper3407) December 7, 2016
It looks like they're doing just that.