Nationals set to open second half playing catchup in NL East

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Nats set to open second half playing catchup in NL East originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Nationals entered the All-Star Break at 42-47, six games back of the New York Mets in the NL East. It was the first time that Washington was under .500 at the unofficial midpoint of the season since 2010, not counting 2020 when there was no All-Star Break.

After going 19-9 in the month of June and pulling to within two games of the division lead, the Nationals lost nine of 11 the rest of the way — all against playoff contenders from the NL West. Injuries piled up as Kyle Schwarber (hamstring), Yan Gomes (oblique) and Joe Ross (elbow) were among those to join Stephen Strasburg (neck) on the injured list.

When the second half begins Friday, the Nationals will be looking up at three teams ahead of them in the NL East standings. Despite FanGraphs giving them just a 3% chance to make the playoffs, President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo told 106.7 The Fan’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday that he still has confidence in his roster.

“I think second half we’re gonna try and get out of the gate quick,” Rizzo said. “We have to. The trade deadline is at the end of July. We think that we’ve got a team that can compete in the National League East and we’ve showed that when we’re healthy, we’re as good as anybody. But we haven’t been healthy. We [were] getting unhealthier as we got to the break and…we crawled into the All-Star Break.”

Though it’s going to take another June-esque surge for the Nationals to vault back into playoff contention, their schedule does give them a chance. After three games at home against the San Diego Padres this weekend, Washington will play six straight series against teams with a losing record including bouts with the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles and a Chicago Cubs team that’s already indicated it plans to sell at the deadline.

In between them and the Mets are the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies. The Braves were already in need of a boost on offense when star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. went down with a torn ACL. Without Acuna and Marcell Ozuna the rest of the year, Atlanta’s outlook is bleak. The Phillies’ bullpen has been a mess all year and they’re the only NL East team with a losing record against the rest of the division.

Yet the Nationals don’t want to get bogged down by what’s going on with the teams in front of them. The big focus for them will be getting healthy and seeing what the team is capable of with everybody back on the field.

“I’d like to see what this team can do with all of our pieces playing for once this year,” Rizzo said. “I think if that happens, we’ll make a run and we’ll be a competitive team and have a chance to win this thing. Six games is a lot. I’d rather be up six games than down six games but it’s not insurmountable and I think that we’ve shown in the past that…two weeks can change your output in the standings in a dramatic way.”