Trea Turner is back from the injured list and not a moment too soon as the Nationals try to save their season

For the second straight season, the Washington Nationals are one of the most disappointing teams in baseball. The Nationals head into Friday night's series opener with the Cubs at 18-25, their worst 43-game start since 2009. Only the Marlins, who are 10-31 and not even pretending to be competitive, have a worse record in the National League.

There is good news though. The Nationals just took two of three from the Mets, one of the teams they're chasing in the NL East, and shortstop Trea Turner is back from the injured list. He missed 39 games with a broken finger.

Turner broke his finger on a botched bunt attempt on April 2. Prior to the injury, he went 5 for 14 (.357) with one double, two home runs, and four stolen bases. Turner hit .271/.344/.416 with 19 homers and a league-leading 43 stolen bases last year. When healthy, he is a true impact player on both sides of the ball.

Washington's shortstops during Turner's absence -- the Nationals mostly used Wilmer Difo at short, but also Carter Kieboom a bit -- were among the least productive in baseball. Here are their shortstop ranks while Turner was sidelined:

  • Batting average: .199 (29th)
  • On-base percentage: .273 (28th)
  • Slugging percentage: .301 (27th)

Yikes! Going from Difo/Kieboom to Turner at shortstop is an enormous upgrade for a Nationals team that needs all the upgrades they can get.

The Nationals have played 43 games, or 26.5 percent of their season, so it would be silly to count this team out of the race. Not with that rotation front three (Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin) and not with Turner rejoining Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto in the lineup. A flawed team? No doubt. A talented one? Very much so.

Of course, the Nationals have more or less exhausted their margin for error this season. Taking two of three from the Mets was a good start but there is a lot -- a lot -- more work to be done. Washington's upcoming schedule presents some opportunity:

  • May 17-19: Three games vs. Cubs
  • May 20-23: Four games at Mets
  • May 24-27: Four games vs. Marlins

Want to contend? You have to beat teams like the Cubs at home. After this weekend's series, the Nationals get four games against a Mets team that will have seven players on the injured list as soon as Michael Conforto is placed on the 7-day concussion injured list, and four games against a terrible Marlins team.

I wouldn't call this the last chance for the Nationals to salvage their season, but I'm not sure there will ever be a better chance to salvage the season. Turner's back, next week's series presents a chance to make up ground on the Mets, and the Marlins are a chance to pad the win total. I'm not sure what more Washington could want to go their way.

The Cubs will be a handful this weekend. Those Mets and Marlins series? Those are series a contending team should win. If the Nationals don't capitalize, then we'll have to start talking about them as a potential seller for the second straight summer.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for,,,... Full Bio

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