July 31st is the non-waiver trading deadline in Major League Baseball.  While swaps can still go through, this is the big day when deals are made between contenders and pretenders.  For the sixth straight year the Nats are contenders…and the last three seasons have provided a Christmas in July for DC baseball fans.  What might be under their tree this year?

Needs- Relief, relief, relief.  The Nats lead the majors with 66 quality starts but boast the second-worst bullpen ERA in the big leagues.  Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson have been solid additions, but one can never have too many proven arms available in the late innings.  They could also use another table-setter type in the lineup:  Brian Goodwin and Wilmer Difo are hitting just over .250 with 34 walks against 104 strikeouts.  Howie Kendrick was a start…but there’s no guarantee Trea Turner will return to his June-level when he gets back and there’s no guarantee Jayson Werth will even return.  Add to the wish list a #3 or #4 starter…the longer that Stephen Strasburg is in the land of limbo.

Previous Sprees- the last three years General Manager Mike Rizzo has pulled the late-July trigger, with mixed results:

2014-– infielder Asdrubal Cabrera (more like a stocking stuffer than a gift wrapped under the tree) was brought to DC for reserve Zach Walters.  Cabrera didn’t set the world on fire, but was a decided upgrade over Danny Espinosa at second base (just one error and 20 runs + 21 RBI over 49 games; Espy had 31 runs + 27 RBI over 114 games played).

2015– closer Jonathan Papelbon was brought to South Capitol Street to shore up the bullpen.  The price tag?  Nick Pivetta (3-6 with an ERA of 5.73 this year for the Phillies).  And the team’s mental well-being. Instead, the veteran was ineffective, Drew Storen went on a downward spiral that ended when he broke his hand punching a locker, and Papelbon put his hand on the throat of NL MVP Bryce Harper in a dugout dustup.  Decidedly a bad move.

2016– new year, new closer.  This time it was Pittsburgh’s Marc Melancon…and the price tag was pitchers Felipe Rivero (5-5 with an ERA under 2 out of the pen for the Pirates over the last year) and Taylor Hearn (currently in high Class A).  Melancon delivered 17 saves in 18 chances with an ERA of 1.82 in 30 appearances and almost as important allowed the team to jettison Papelbon.  A definite win for the team.

Hall of Blame- congratulations to former Expo Tim Raines and ex-National Pudge Rodriguez on their Hall of Fame inductions.  Shame that Cooperstown’s big day occured while there were 14 MLB games in progress.  Perhaps they can make this part of All Star Week?

Dissecting the Division- the hard-charging Miami Marlins have won seven of ten,  moving within 13 games of the Nats.  For those scoring at home, the magic number is now 47.

O’s Woes- okay, so the Birds took two of three from Texas. And they put 10 runs on the board Sunday against the Rangers.  But the Orioles are 6-1 against Texas this month…and 5-13 against everyone else in July.  At 50-54 they’re on the fringe, five and a half games out of the wildcard.  But the starting pitching remains a nightmare and the dreaded west coast trip is a few weeks away.

Last Week’s Heroes- Ryan Zimmerman hit .350 with 4 HR and 9 RBI…replacing Frank Howard atop DC’s career HR list.  Wilmer Difo batted .364 with 2 homers.  Edwin Jackson pitched a gem Sunday night (striking out 6 while allowing 4 hits over 7 innings).  Max Scherzer struck out 9 while improving to 12-5 on the season.

Last Week’s Humbled- Daniel Murphy and Matt Wieters each hit .167.  Tanner Roark allowed 4 runs over 5 innings in his lone start.  The Washington Kastles lost 5 straight matches to slip out of World Team Tennis title contention.

Game to Watch- Monday Gio Gonzalez pitches against Jose Urena in Miami.  So you’ve got Gio’s return to his hometown…facing a nine-game winner.  While Gonzalez has lost four of his last five decisions, the lefthander continues to keep his ERA under three.  Have we mentioned the Marlins are within 13 games of the NL East lead?

Game to Miss- Wednesday the Nats wrap up their series against the Marlins with Stephen Strasburg–nope, he’s on the DL.  Instead, TBA takes to the mound against an 0-2 Vance Worley…proving that the dog days are officially upon us.