News & Politics

Is It Too Late for the Nats to Turn the Season Around?

Tim Shovers, creator of the Nats Chat Podcast, analyses what's gone wrong in 2021.

Opening day of the Washington Nationals' 2020 season. Photograph by Evy Mages

It’s been a disappointing season so far for the Washington Nationals. After 100 games, the club has slumped to a 46-54 record, leaving them in fourth place in the NL East. As we approach Friday’s trading deadline, Washingtonian spoke with Tim Shovers, the producer of the Nats Chat Podcast, about the season’s biggest disappointments, whether or not it’s too late to turn things around, and if there’s any hope for next year. 

What’s been the problem with the team this year?

Their identity is built around elite starting pitching, especially the Big 3 of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin.  Strasburg has been hurt almost the entire year and Corbin has been largely terrible this season. Their greatest strength has now turned into a weakness.  Lately they have had way too many short outings from their starters, which in turn leads to a fatigued bullpen.

They also have had an unusual rash of injuries.  Chiefly evidenced by the fact that Alex Avila, their backup catcher, in early July had to fill in at 2B one game.  This led to him straining both his calves and it’s been all downhill for the team ever since.

At this point in the season, do they have any chance of getting back into the race?

It’s extremely unlikely.  They are expected to not only be sellers before Friday’s trade deadline, but it could be an extensive sale.  Stephen Strasburg now missing the rest of the season seems like the extra “nail in the coffin.”  It’s a shame, because it’s a very vulnerable division with no elite team.

What would have to happen for them to get back into the race?

They would have to keep Trea Turner (assuming he returns soon from COVID) as opposed to trading him away.  Then he and [Juan] Soto would have to go on a real run the final few months.  Plus, the pitching would have to turn around, chiefly keeping Scherzer and Corbin becoming effective again.

Who’s been the most pleasant surprise on the team this year and why?

For a brief period in June, it was Kyle Schwarber’s historic HR surge.  He was achieving feats rarely seen in the sport with how regularly he was leaving the ballpark. Honorable mention to Paolo Espino, a pitcher who we are obsessed with on the podcast.  Drafted in 2006, he won his first Major League game this summer.  It’s a tremendous story that seemingly only happens in Baseball.

Who’s been the biggest disappointment this year and why?

Patrick Corbin.  It is no coincidence that in 2019 [the Nats] won the World Series with such an effective 3rd starter. He has been awful this year and has been at best a 5th starter when the team has needed him most.

Do you expect the Nats to start trading some of their star players before the trading deadline? Do you think they’ll trade Max Scherzer? Who do you think they might trade?

I think they will trade Kyle Schwarber, as his stock is high after his June performance. After the sweep in Baltimore, my thinking on Max Scherzer has completely changed. I do now think he will be dealt as long as the Nationals can get a solid haul in return. I do not anticipate Trea Turner being dealt.  I am most confident that Josh Harrison, Daniel Hudson, and Brad Hand will be traded elsewhere.

What does the future of the franchise look like from here? Is there any hope for next year?

I very much feel there can be a bright future, but it all starts and stops with pitching.  If Strasburg can return to peak form post surgery, he is one of the best pitchers in Baseball.  Cade Cavalli, who currently is in AA Harrisburg, has been wowing people all across the sport with his high velocity.  Joe Ross & Erick Fedde have shown they are capable Major League starters, and one has to hope Patrick Corbin can somewhat return to his 2019 form.

Tell me a little about the podcast. How is it different from other podcasts?

“Nats Chat” is the only Nationals podcast to publish episodes the morning after every game.  In fact, I believe we are the only podcast like this in all of Baseball. We began in Spring Training of this season. I have always felt local Nationals content had a lot of room for improvement. I distinctly remember listening to the radio the day after Stephen Strasburg’s debut in 2010 and was largely disappointed by the quality of discussion compared to how knowledgeable everyone was in town about the NFL & NBA.  That day stuck with me ever since. We are available on all the usual podcast platforms including Apple, Google, Stitcher, Overcast, etc.  Our website is natschat.buzzsprout.com.

Tell me a little bit about your podcast cohosts.

Mark Zuckerman has been covering the Nationals since Day 1 for a variety of outlets, [he’s] currently with MASNsports.com.  He has a level of institutional knowledge for one franchise that is seemingly unmatched in the sport. Al Galdi has been a host on local airwaves since the late 90’s, including a roughly 20 year run with ESPN 980 (Later known as the Team 980).  He currently hosts “The Al Galdi Podcast.” He is a fan of the local teams, most notably Washington Football.  He grew up an Orioles fan because there was no baseball team in Washington.  He however has been discussing them on air their entire existence and therefore is an expert on the Nats.

How popular is the podcast?

We are the top rated Nationals podcast and have regularly been in the Apple Top 20 for Baseball Podcasts in America. We have sold t-shirts promoting the podcast and many of our listeners have been pictured wearing them to games.  The highlight so far was a listener who made a Nats Chat sign while sitting behind home plate in San Francisco.

Don’t Miss Another Big Story—Get Our Weekend Newsletter

Our most popular stories of the week, sent every Saturday.

Or, see all of our newsletters. By signing up, you agree to our terms.
Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.