It’s time for the Washington Nationals to wave the white flag on 2018

MIAMI, FL - JULY 26: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals in the dugout before the game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on July 26, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JULY 26: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals in the dugout before the game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on July 26, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /
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The time has come for the Washington Nationals to quietly admit defeat and move on from the 2018 season.

Teams fighting to stay alive on the fringes of playoff contention have very little margin for error. Every single at-bat, pitch, run matters. So, it goes without saying that a team like the Washington Nationals can’t afford to be doing things like blowing late-inning leads in back-to-back games.

But alas — the Nats have been forced to learn the hard way that it may not be the best idea to trade two veteran relievers (with your All-Star closer already on the disabled list) just to prove a point. It’s true what they say, play stupid games; win stupid prizes.

With two consecutive back-breaking losses, the Nationals find themselves seven games behind the surging Atlanta Braves for the NL East crown and six games out of the final Wild Card, with four teams in their way. The model produced by FiveThirtyEight has their playoff odds down to 17 percent.

Washington likely needs to finish the season playing .750 baseball to have even a remote shot at claiming a playoff spot. It might not have seemed out of the question that the Nationals could produce a run like that back in April, when their World Series hopes were at an all-time high, but now they are trying to do it without Stephen Strasburg and Sean Doolittle and have no idea what they will get from a beleaguered bullpen on any given night. If there is any reason for hope, it is that Bryce Harper has re-activated God Mode, while Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy are finally healthy.

It is going to take a full-blown miracle for the Nationals to find themselves continuing their season past September 30, and holding out for that miracle no longer looks worth it. Harper will be a free agent at the end of the year, as will Murphy, starter Gio Gonzalez, catcher Matt Wieters and multiple bullpen arms and bench bats. The core, except for Harper, remains intact, with young superstar Juan Soto set to take over as the lineup’s number-one weapon with plenty of support from Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Adam Eaton and another up-and-coming prospect in Victor Robles.

The Nationals can and will be in playoff contention in 2019, and that is what the front office should begin focusing on at this point. This season has become a lost cause, much like the 2015 season, where injuries and a leaky bullpen also sunk the team.

Now is the time for Washington to accept that Harper’s final year with the team will not result in a long-awaited NLDS victory. It will not hurt anything to quietly add the superstar’s name to the waiver wire and see what offers come from contenders desperate for a final boost to their playoff hopes. While it is not imperative that Harper be traded before the end of August, the Nationals must find a taker for Murphy, who remains one of the purest hitters in the league but needs to play out his career in the American League. The three-time All-Star has hit .388/.400/.633 over his past 13 games with three doubles, three home runs and 10 RBI.

When the Nationals refused to throw in the white towel in 2015 and rode their season all the way out to September, things were different. The whole team was staying together for three more cracks at it before Harper’s date with free agency. Now, the Nationals face a different reality. Their roster is changing, but all hope is not lost like it is up the road in Baltimore. With six weeks left in the 2018 season, it’s time to start thinking more about 2019 and another knockdown, drag-out battle with Atlanta and Philadelphia for NL East supremacy.