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Nats have reason to hope for nice 2nd-half run

Preseason favorite entered break at .500, but improving health, potential trades offer optimism
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WASHINGTON -- Few things have gone smoothly for the Nationals through the first 96 games of the season, where they have fallen from heavy division favorites to a .500 record and third place in the National League East. They have been injured, their stars have underperformed and the emergence of the Braves and Phillies has put Washington in jeopardy of missing the postseason for the first time since 2015.

Still, there are reasons for optimism. The Nationals are still one of the most talented teams in the National League, with reinforcements on the way in the forms of Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman coming off the disabled list and some underachieving stars who seem to be trending upward.

WASHINGTON -- Few things have gone smoothly for the Nationals through the first 96 games of the season, where they have fallen from heavy division favorites to a .500 record and third place in the National League East. They have been injured, their stars have underperformed and the emergence of the Braves and Phillies has put Washington in jeopardy of missing the postseason for the first time since 2015.

Still, there are reasons for optimism. The Nationals are still one of the most talented teams in the National League, with reinforcements on the way in the forms of Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman coming off the disabled list and some underachieving stars who seem to be trending upward.

"Just everybody getting healthy and getting going," Bryce Harper said. "We've got to battle. I think the Braves are really good, the Phillies are good, and those are two teams that are probably going to make some moves as well. Looking forward to the second half. Looking forward to doing what we need to do to win the East."

Current status: Buyer
Even though they have scuffled up to the break, the Nationals still have high aspirations for this season. General manager Mike Rizzo struck early to acquire Kelvin Herrera from the Royals last month; expect Rizzo to remain aggressive near the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline in search of ways to upgrade. The season would have to go south in a hurry during the next two weeks before the Nats considered becoming sellers.

Video: BAL@WSH: Herrera retires Mancini, side in Nats debut

What they are seeking
The most obvious place where the Nationals could upgrade is catcher, where they have received the least production in the Majors. Matt Wieters, who returned from the DL before the break, will help, but adding another bat to the lineup could level out the inconsistency and help guide the pitching staff.

What they have to offer
Rizzo will almost certainly be reluctant to deal any of his top-tier prospects, such as Victor Robles or Carter Kieboom, who are knocking on the doorstep of the Majors, but the Nats still have some enticing players at some of the lower levels of their system. Washington is likely to deal from its lower Minors, or could include Major League talent such as Michael A. Taylor or Brian Goodwin in a deal to elevate its current outfield logjam.

Possible scenario
Nationals fans would welcome catcher Wilson Ramos back with open arms if the Rays are open to dealing him before the end of the month. He made the All-Star team in D.C. this week, giving fans even more to dream about. Scouts from the Rays system have been reported at Nationals Minor League games, so perhaps the two teams find a way to strike a deal.

Video: Wilson Ramos putting up All-Star numbers in 2018

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals