Does the MLB July 31 (trading) deadline cause some teams to tank (like the Washington Nationals this year)?

The Washington Nationals avoided a five-game sweep at home by the Philadelphia Phillies, when one of their new pitchers came through for them with seven innings of no earned runs.  (Near the end of the 2019 season the Nats had swept the Phillies at home in a 5-game series.)

But the team is struggling with a 24-46 record, the worst in baseball, and has really tanked.  

Actually, they tied two previous games in the bottom of the ninth and lost in extra innings.  The pandemic-era rule of starting extra innings with a runner on 2nd helps stronger teams, especially on the road, if they have better bullpens.

On Friday, June 17, the Nationals had (and lost both ends of) a double-header with a ceremony honoring retired #11 player Ryan Zimmerman who played for the team for 17 years (and won the home opener in the new stadium in 2008 with a walkoff home run). Zimmerman was known for hitting southpaw pitching hard and hitting line drives. He was capable of hitting opposite field homers and tape-measure jobs sometimes. His personality suggests, well, a career, maybe in baseball management? or maybe running for office? How many retired professional sports champions have run for office?

What happened to at team that pulled off a miracle World Series in 2019, when the visiting team won all seven games? (In 1991, it was the home team that did this, when the Minnesota Twins won with their homer hankies).

Some of it is COVID.  It starts with that disruption, sure.  But the biggest problem is the way the July 31 trading deadline works.  It forces teams not in contention to trade away their best players for prospects and start over.  It’s especially bad for middle market teams if they’ve had many significant injuries. 

I wonder how the effect of the deadline affected the lockout last winter, which shortened Spring Training and delayed the season a week.

In June 2021, the Nationals lost slugger Kyle Schwarber (formerly the Cubs) to a pulled hamstring.  It sounds like a foolish, trivial injury, running out an infield hit.  Had that not happened they would have won more games in July and not wound up in this situation.  But on July 31, they traded Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Some of the prospects (especially Gray) seem promising and maybe after a year of experience in the Majors more of them will be competitive when matched against more experienced teams.

Strasburg hasn't pitched much since 2019. We're still waiting to hear from the 'second opinion' in his current IL episode. But the huge commitment to a star whose career ends because of injury can cripple all but the richest teams (like the Yankees and Dodgers, always on top). It doesn't sound like the disruptive lockout in the early spring solved this. I do remember Stephen's first game in 2010, a 5-2 home win against the Pittsburgh Pirates.[Note: Strasburg was able to start only one game in 2022; will he return in 2023 or ever? What about his salary?]

But you can see how teams suddenly tank = like the Baltimore Orioles (lost the first 20 games in 1988) and Miami/Florida Marlins, Detroit Tigers (who won only 43 games in 2003), and Houston Astros have in the past (with Houston recovering and turning round quickly, going 51-101 in 2013, their first year in the AL, to getting into the wild card game in 2015.

P.S. The 2022 Nationals finished 55-107. That's worse than the 1963 "new" Senators at 56-106.

Maybe pitchers should take up chess.  And so should managers.  Younger pitchers often have trouble facing a batting order the second time around in the middle innings.  That reminds me of a speed chess match online recently by international masters (and well known chess YouTube streamers) Levy Rozman and Eric Rosen.  Levy started the match well but lost several in a row as Eric figured him out in the middle of the match. Gambits do well in online speed chess.  

You could have a chess benefit, setting up mall outdoor big pieces in a pregame show and showing the board and moves on the scoreboard. Maybe a group like March for our Lives could try this with a MLB team and some chess players, or maybe a match between two chess personalities like Rozman and Rosen -- showing the instructive analogy between playing chess and pitching in baseball.

(Posted: Sunday, June 19, 2022 at 11 PM EDT by John W. Boushka)