NATIONALS Report

Getting back to full strength

They are almost whole. The Nationals have to hope they can keep the injury bug at bay for another week or two, and they should have Jayson Werth back from a broken left wrist he suffered May 6.

Werth was off to a strong start at the time and effectively rebounding from last year's disappointing season. He was batting .276 with three home runs and 12 RBIs in 27 games. His OPS was .810. Washington doesn't need a superhero. But it could definitely use an .820 or so OPS right fielder to go with Bryce Harper and Michael Morse.

That will push Steve Lombardozzi into a full-time utility role with Roger Bernadina the roving outfielder and Tyler Moore the power bat off the bench. Veteran Mark DeRosa figures to be in the mix, too. But the four-man bench remains a fluid situation, and a trade always could alter the equation. It's a good problem to have, though.

Werth was expected to begin his rehab assignment with Single-A Potomac this weekend, but there's no telling how long he'll need before returning to the lineup. It could be next weekend, or it could be another 10 days after that. Either way, his return will provide a boost at the right time.

MLB STORYLINES

1 Oakland A's » They are the darkest of dark horses in the chase for a playoff spot in the American League. If Oakland wasn't expected to finish last in the AL West this season, it certainly wasn't seen as a contender. And the idea that the A's could leap one of the powerhouse AL East teams for a wild-card spot seemed absurd. Yet here they are just a half-game out entering Saturday. With a strong starting rotation and an even better bullpen, Oakland has trumped its weak lineup. Jonny Gomes -- Nats fans remember him as an off-the-bench bat last summer -- is the team's third-best hitter.

2 Trading places » It's that time of year when the pretenders are established and the contenders are in desperate need of extra pieces. Sometimes it's a blockbuster deal, and other times it's a tweak to the bench or the bullpen. But moves will come fast and furious in the days leading up to the July 31 trade deadline. It starts with pitching. Is Cole Hamels available, or will the Phillies work out a contract extension with the soon-to-be free agent? Is Zack Greinke damaged goods, or did the Brewers scratch their ace from his last start to keep a minor injury from worsening?

3 Injured returns » Sometimes the trade deadline can be overrated. Instead, look at teams expecting to get injured players back from the disabled list to help make a playoff push in the second half. Boston got such a boost when star center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury returned from a partial shoulder separation last week. And Detroit still holds out hope that Victor Martinez, a .330 hitter last season, can return in September to help the Tigers catch the White Sox in the AL Central. Martinez tore his ACL in January and was expected to miss all of 2012 but is showing signs of improvement.

WHO'S HOT?

1. Andrew McCutchen » The Pirates outfielder recorded 28 hits in the first 14 games of July to take control of the NL MVP race.

2. David Wright » The Mets third baseman had five extra-base hits, including three home runs, in the series vs. the Nats this week.

3. Josh Willingham » Six hits in a series vs. Baltimore pushed the Twins outfielder's OPS up to .963.

Who's not?

1. Jonathan Sanchez » The Royals starter didn't make it out of the second inning this week vs. Seattle and was traded to Colorado.

2. Jeremy Guthrie » The Rockies starter didn't make it out of the third inning this week vs. Pittsburgh and was traded -- for Sanchez.

3. Gio Gonzalez » The Nats All-Star has a 5.81 ERA over his last five starts and was pummeled by the Mets on Thursday.

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com