Scherzer Injury Spotlights The Nationals Achilles Heel

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 07: Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals watches the game against the Kansas City Royals at Nationals Park on July 7, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 07: Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals watches the game against the Kansas City Royals at Nationals Park on July 7, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Washington Nationals: Who’s in-house?

After Fedde and Voth, the Nats would turn to a pool that includes Joe Ross (11.05 ERA), Kyle McGowin (29th ranked team prospect), and Jeremy Hellickson (injured, 6.23 ERA). Reach even deeper and you’ll turn up 24-year-old Will Crowe, who’s looked good this year while mostly pitching for Double-A Harrisburg. But he hasn’t come close to surfacing and it’s not as if Hellickson/Fedde/Voth have had that fifth starter spot on lock.

The Nationals should have better options available. They don’t.

What’s particularly frustrating is that this should be the easy part. They just need some league average guys to hold the line when natural disasters occur. They have been consistently unable to patch the holes.

The good news is Voth has emerged. He gained a couple of ticks to his fastball this season, which has made all the difference, even if he’s not yet able to consistently hit the sixth inning. Extrapolate his four big-league starts out for the rest of the season, and he’s totally sufficient as your fifth guy.

Fedde, too, looked like a savior when the bullpen couldn’t get an out early in the season. He’s done well enough as a starter by measure of ERA (3.50), but there’s a legitimate reason to doubt his staying power:  5.23 FIP, 4.7 K/9 (to 3.7 BB/9, no less). When regression comes to rear its ugly head, the Nats don’t want to be left holding the bag.

For a team with title aspirations (and with a 34-year-old Hall of Famer leading the staff, don’t they have to have title aspirations?), Voth and Fedde should be the depth the Nats lack. They should be waiting politely at the end of the line. Right now, they’re fronting it.

Maybe Max comes back in a week and the Nats keep rolling with Scherzer-Strasburg-Corbin-Sanchez-Voth until that one-game playoff against Bryce Harper and the Phillies (good god would that be fun). But this franchise just lost the best player in franchise history, might lose their second-best player in franchise history next offseason, and they’re on the verge of wasting an all-time season from an all-time starter. There should be some urgency to make the playoffs.

Besides, this team is good. Since May 24, they’ve been great. If they’re going to chase down the Braves for the NL East division lead, they’re going to have to stay great. A great team should have the foresight to build out their depth in a meaningful way.

Practically speaking, they should have a fifth starter that could conceivably be another team’s fourth starter. Voth and Fedde are not that. They are fifth starters.

Even with an exclusive group of sellers, I find it hard to believe that the Nationals can’t go out there and find the fourth starter without giving up their top prospects like Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia. The type of move that I’m calling for won’t excite you. It’s a raise-the-floor move.

Unfortunately, the low-hanging trade fruit isn’t what it used to be. More and more teams relying on their bullpens for the fourth and fifth rotation spots means there are less fourth and fifth starters throughout the league. For a team like the Nationals, who has remained steadfast in their refusal to use an Opener, that leaves not very many options.

All that said, I don’t want to be the guy that just points out problems. I wanna be the guy that shows up with a solution in hand. So here we go.