The Washington Nationals began June in an awful place. Everyone was freaking out and everyone assumed that their manager would be fired. They were the top choice in everyone’s “biggest busts of 2019” list.
They have a better record than the Chicago Cubs do right now. Heck, the Cubs are tied with the White Sox in the loss column.
Which sort of explains Theo Epstein taking about making big changes soon if things don’t shape up on the north side. Here he was on Chicago’s on 670 The Score yesterday:
“If we don’t snap out of this, a lot of change is called for, that’s obvious . . . We’re all really frustrated, obviously. It’s a stretch of play that nobody is proud of, nor should anybody be. It’s hard. But you find out a lot about what people are made of during stretches like these. It obviously can’t continue. It’s not acceptable . . . if this stretch of bad play continues, then certainly a ton of change is in order.”
Of course, as Patrick Mooney points out in his column about all of this, the Cubs remain only a game out of first place in the NL Central thanks to the Brewers and Cardinals putting up equally disappointing showings thus far. If the Cubs played in the NL East they’d be six back. If they played in the West they’d be 13.5 back. In the National League they’re in a virtual tie with Washington for the second Wild Card but in the AL they’d be looking up at five teams ahead of them for the Wild Card.
So, yeah, not ideal.
What kind of big changes might Epstein be thinking about if the Cubs can’t snap out of it? Mooney talks about dealing off bullpen parts such as Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop and Brandon Kintzler, hoping Cole Hamels can get healthy and shopping him and, perhaps, canning their lame duck manager, Joe Maddon, as they look to re-load for 2020.
That’d be quite the thing given this team’s expectations. It’d be even more of a thing if the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals all continue to struggle and Epstein sees and opportunity to improve with those kinds of deals even while there’s a realistic chance to make the playoffs. The question — which I doubt Epstein would answer right now but which he no doubt has to consider — is whether it’s better to limp into the playoffs, clearly inferior to the Dodgers, Braves and other NL contenders, or if it’s better to try to re-jigger things for next year.
Which is to say: would Theo do a white-flag trade?