As I watched Wilson Ramos land awkwardly and crumple to the ground pointing at his knee Monday night, a lot was going through my mind. I was mad that the Nationals had to play in the sloppy conditions in DC that night. I was frustrated with Dusty Baker for not giving Ramos more time off. I cursed the baseball gods who clearly had a hand in sending first Stephen Strasburg then Daniel Murphy then Bryce Harper and now Ramos to the bench with injuries. I wondered how many people weren’t watching the game because they were doing something much more important like watching the presidential debate. I hated the Diamondbacks and their stupid jerseys. I missed Jose Fernandez, because anything related to baseball makes me miss Jose Fernandez this week. But most of all, in the midst of all that emotion, I feared what this injury might do to ruin what has been an amazing season of baseball in DC.
It’s hard to overstate Ramos’ value to the Nationals this season. He’s been the most valuable offensive catcher in baseball according to wRC+, narrowly edging out Jonathan Lucroy. His offseason LASIK surgery that improved his batting eye also improved his defensive value, as he’s been a plus pitch framer and continues to restrict the running game of opposing teams. He’s even been adept at close tag plays at the plate, which makes it a cruel twist of fate that it was a ball thrown in to catch a runner at the plate that led to this injury. Most importantly, he’s been an offensive rock in the year that saw Harper struggle to find his groove and Ryan Zimmerman continue to flail away at the plate. With those two franchise cornerstones failing to provide pop in the lineup, Ramos joined Murphy in carrying the team for long stretches of time.
For that reason, Baker couldn’t justify keeping Ramos out of the lineup. Ramos doesn’t lead the league in games played by a catcher, but he’s not far off with his 131 appearances and sits behind a couple of guys, like Buster Posey and Lucroy, who have gotten time at first base to keep them fresh. By all indications, Ramos was capable of strapping on the gear almost day in and day out and the offense was certainly happy to have him.
I can’t help but think of the NBA in this situation, however. The league has been in the midst of discussions over shortening the season because of the wear and tear basketball players have to endure. The long season contributes not only to diminished play on the court but, more distressingly, major injuries. The types of injuries NBA players are suffering is what stuck in my head: knee injuries, ankle injuries and Achilles injuries on non-contact plays. Major NBA stars have missed significant amounts of time not because of contact with an opposing player but because they landed awkwardly on a seemingly otherwise mundane play. These elite athletes get hurt doing something they do every day because their fatigued muscles aren’t at 100%. That’s what I thought of when I saw Ramos crumple to the ground. He didn’t appear to get hit by the runner sliding into home. He didn’t land on a wayward bat or carelessly strewn helmet. He just landed. And his fatigued knee couldn’t take it anymore.
Here is where I point out that Ramos’ offense had collapsed in recent weeks. His 15 game, rolling wOBA average hasn’t been over .300 since mid-August. His strikeout rate had skyrocketed from mid-single digits earlier in the year to over to over 25 percent at points this month. The signs were there. The season was clearly taking a toll on Ramos. But hindsight is 20/20. Would I have advocated for giving Ramos an extra couple of days off to try and refresh him for the playoffs? Sure. Did I think playing him would result in a potentially catastrophic injury? Not a chance. So will I blame this injury on Dusty? Just as much as I will blame the long baseball season and on the skies for dumping a torrential downpour on a Tuesday in September.
Of course, D.C. is waiting with bated breath for the official word on the extent of Ramos’ injury. There is always that chance that it looked worse than it actually was, however likely or unlikely that may be. There is still an NLDS to play, though. If Ramos won’t be able to answer the call, someone will have to step up and fill the hole he leaves behind. It is mighty hard to picture at this depressing moment, but baseball history is filled with unexpected heroes who stepped up when the lights shown brightest. In a short five or seven game series, almost anything is possible. Does an injury to Wilson Ramos hurt? Of course it does. But the Nationals are far from out of it just because the Buffalo won’t be in the lineup.Tags: Dusty Baker, Nationals, Nats, Washington Nationals, Wilson Ramos