The Luxury of Time
Even while in the midst of a four game slide the Nats are 11 games over .500 and leading the NL East. Over the next two days they will have the pitchers with the second and the third highest WAR in the NL on the mound. By all accounts this losing streak should end within the next two games, but it could have and perhaps should have ended last night. If it had been Detwiler on the mound instead of Chien-Ming Wang the Nats losing streak may already be over.
The problem with Chien Ming Wang has nothing to do with him. This has been his pattern over the last couple of seasons. He comes back from injury and takes a bit of time to get right, and when he does he is a good and sturdy pitcher that can go deep into games. Right now his delivery is off and he is overthrowing everything and leaving his sinker up in the zone where it is getting hit and hit hard.
Brad Lidge was in a similar way where his mechanics just weren't right but with time they would have gotten right. The problem though isn't with the players it is with the current state of the Nationals. At 11 games over .500 and leading the NL East the Nats no longer have the luxury of waiting for veterans like Lidge or Wang to get right and then trying to flip them to contenders for prospects. This is no longer that state that the Nationals are in.
Lidge was in a bit of a different situation than Wang. At some point in September Stephen Strasburg is going to be shut down and the Nats are going to need an additional starter. As of right now the move would be to simply shift Detwiler from the pen to the rotation and go with that, but with every start that Wang makes he is hurting the Nationals chances of even having to worry about contention when Strasburg is shutdown. The Nationals are reaching a crisis point and a decision is going to have to be made. Is it better to let Wang cost the Nationals wins now while trying to get him right or is it best to put the best foot forward and win as many games as possible before Strasburg is shut down and then hope someone like Lannan or Duke can be hot in September?
It is a tough question with no easy answer and it is made tougher by the fact that the Nationals are winning. If this was any other year in the Nationals history the answer would be easy. It would be to stick with the veteran until they were tradable and then move them for a prospect or minor leaguer that could help in the future. In the past the Nats made a number of moves they wouldn't be able to make now because they simply do not have the luxury of time.
During the Winter Meetings in 2006 the Nationals were able to select in the rule 5 draft a high A catcher by the name of Jesus Flores. After the 2007 season the Nationals were able to trade a hot reliever with a hard to spell name to the Yankees for a starter named Tyler Clippard who the Nats subsequently transformed into one of the best set-up men in baseball. In 2009 the Nationals and Mariners swapped utility players with all glove no bat Ryan Langerhans going to the Mariners for light hitting poor defensive utility man Michael Morse. And in 2009 the Nationals traded the struggling Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge to the Pirates for Nyjer Morgan and throw in Sean Burnett. Also that year the Nats were able to acquire Tommy John's survivor Ryan Mattheus from the Rockies for Joe Beimel.
In some way every one of those players has contributed to the Nats recent success and they were able to acquire and then work through those players struggles because they had the time to do so. Look at what the Rockies are doing with a four man rotation. If they were in the midst of a pennant race there is no chance they have the ability to be that experimental, but because they have been struggling so badly this season they can afford to try a new idea.
Because the Nationals now find themselves with a winning record in June they have some tough decisions ahead. When mechanically sound Chien Ming Wang is a perfectly acceptable starting pitcher, but he isn't mechanically sound and the Nationals may not have the time to wait for him to get that way. Especially with Ross Detwiler sitting out in the bullpen waiting for another shot at the rotation. For a losing team the luxury of time is their greatest weapon because it can lead to finds like Michael Morse or Tyler Clippard, but the Nationals are no longer a losing team, and this is where the decision making process gets tough and sometime cruel.