I’d like to start by apologizing for writing this piece one week ago — I didn’t intend for Max and the Nationals to actually try to test how replaceable Scherzer actually is… I have not had good luck with these sorts of posts: On June 8th, I opined that the bullpen was no longer awful. Over the next six days, the pen gave up 18 earned runs. On April 27th, I wrote about how to organize Trea Turner and Adam Eaton at the top of the order. Three days later, Eaton collapsed at first base with a torn ACL. This, of course, doesn’t actually mean anything. Just in case, however, do not be surprised if you see me writing about the Cubs and Dodgers later in the year. I’m a team player, after all.
At the risk of foreshadowing another slew of injuries and setbacks, I think the immediate success of the newly acquired Howie Kendrick makes the Nationals left field situation worth looking at. The outfield as it currently stands has Bryce Harper and Brian Goodwin currently entrenched in right and center, respectively. Left field is a jumbled mess, as we all know well, with the current depth chart something like this:
1) Adam Lind, a first baseman who has adjusted to left field relatively well.
2) Kendrick, who is quickly earning at bats and will also spell infielders like Daniel Murphy.
3) Wilmer Difo, whose attempts to play in the outfield have been uninspiring at best.
And then there’s the DL, with Opening Day left fielder Jayson Werth, who is taking a mysteriously long time to recover from a broken bone in his foot, and Opening Day 4th outfielder Michael A. Taylor currently on assignment rehabbing a nagging oblique. These two, when healthy, would be assumed to be one and two in the left field pecking order, but the length of these injuries has clouded that with some ambiguity.
Here’s what I mean by that: Werth has notably struggled immediately following a long layoff, whether it is in April or coming of the DL at any point in the year. Depending on when (or if) he comes off the DL, there may be very limited time for him to get hot. If he comes back in late August and hits something like .200 for two or three weeks, he won’t be the best option in left for the playoffs. Taylor figures to be a starter in the playoffs if he shows any of his pre-injury form, but Goodwin has made a serious case to get meaningful at-bats in October. A lineup with Goodwin and Taylor gives Dusty a great deal of speed and their best possible outfield defense. Dusty could also opt to give Kendrick some at bats; he has looked like a professional hitter in the week he’s spent with Washington, and has been in the playoffs three straight years, hitting at least .250 each time, so he would give them a similar veteran presence that Werth brings. Dusty could even opt to sacrifice all semblance of elite defense in left if they end up going against a good right-hander (Jake Arrieta comes to mind) by using Lind. He is by all accounts an above average hitter against righties, and would lengthen the lineup unlike any other option they have.
So what does this all mean? In all likelihood, it is all a moot point. The chances of everyone I just listed being healthy on October 1st is very slim, so things may sort themselves out naturally. Still, the X-factor is clearly Werth. If he’s healthy, it is going to be extremely tough for Dusty to keep him out of the lineup. Considering his seniority on the team, his great success in the playoffs especially in impact situations (never a bad time to watch this clip), and the fact that this is the final year of his contract, he is all but guaranteed to start Game 1, if able. The problem is, he may not be the best or even next-best choice for left field. The Nats only real surplus is in left field, so that makes it the only area where management could face an extremely difficult situation. The best-case scenario is that health abounds and competition among the candidates elevates performance across the board. In a summer that has been relatively drama-free in the NL East, the Nationals’ left field is the area that could be the most interesting to watch in the final two months.Tags: Adam Lind, Howie Kendrick, Jayson Werth, Michael Taylor, Nationals, Nats, Washington Nationals, Wilmer Difo