There are 53 games left in the regular season. Fifty-three games to get through until the games really matter. Fifty-three games for some guys to get healthy, some to get hurt, and others to either play their way on or off the playoff roster.
I’m confident Trea Turner and Michael Taylor will be back soon. I’m hopeful Jayson Werth and Koda Glover are too. And frankly, I’m freaked out about Stephen Strasburg. Neither his injury history nor the Nats’ medical staff inspire much confidence.
Instead of worrying about the players’ collective health like an overbearing helicopter parent hopped up on Starbucks and despair, it’s more cathartic to focus on guys on the field. If most everyone is healthy by the end of the year, then there will be some interesting choices to be made when it comes time to set the playoff roster.
I’m going to assume the team will pick four starters, seven relievers, and five bench bats to go with the starting eight in the field. Needing only four starters means they can add an extra bullpen arm or bench player.
Turner seems to progressing normally from his broken hand. As long as he’s back by early September, he should have plenty of time to work off the rust and return to his starting spot. He would join Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy, and Ryan Zimmerman in the infield. Bryce Harper is, of course, a lock — but the other two starting outfield spots will depend on what happens over the next two months.
Taylor was the starting center fielder when he got hurt, but Brian Goodwin has taken advantage of his opportunity and shown he deserves to start too. Since Taylor is right-handed and Goodwin is a lefty, I expect we will see them platoon once Taylor returns, which should be soon. Taylor has crushed left-handers to the tune of a wRC+ of 151 (vs. a 101 wRC+ against righties). However, Goodwin has crazy reverse splits. His wRC+ against same-handed pitchers is 191(!). He’s only half as good against rightie, with a 82 wRC+. A standard platoon doesn’t really make sense with these two. Perhaps an even distribution of starts, regardless of which hand the pitcher throws with is in order. Taylor has slightly better numbers on the season, but Goodwin’s numbers are close enough that Taylor shouldn’t just be handed the job back. Can Taylor return to form, and will Goodwin’s wacky splits continue? Both questions need answers before Dusty picks a starting centerfielder for October.
Left field is up for grabs too. Hopefully Werth gets back in time to find his rhythm for the postseason. But his toe just won’t seem to heal. In the meantime, both Adam Lind and Howie Kendrick have been productive in his absence. Goodwin could also slide over to left if Taylor reclaims center outright. While Goodwin the weakest hitting of the four left field options, he’s by far the best defender. If he can improve against righties — where he should have the platoon advantage but doesn’t — he would give the Nats the best possible defensive alignment. It would also keep Lind and Kendrick (and a hobbled Werth) available for big pinch-hit at-bats. Even if Werth can’t get healthy enough to play the field, he could still make the postseason roster if he can prove he can hit.
Wilmer Difo‘s improved offense, defensive versatility (he’s played 5 positions this year), and speed has most likely earned him a playoff roster spot. A healthy Turner and Werth would give the Nats a five-man bench of Lind, Kendrick, Difo, Jose Lobaton, and either Taylor or Goodwin — whichever isn’t starting.
Other things to watch for would be Stephen Drew‘s health, and the progression of rookies Andrew Stevenson and Adrian Sanchez. The latter two could be postseason options for their defense and speed if health concerns keep other guys out, or the team decides to add an extra hitter.
Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Roark will get postseason starts. Hopefully Max proves the neck issue was no big deal. The man pitched with a broken finger for crying out loud. Gio and Tanner may struggle with consistency, but they always make their starts. Hopefully Strasburg is back in time for October. To think otherwise at this point is just too depressing.
The new guys — Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and Brandon Kintzler — are locks for the postseason. Matt Albers has been a revelation, but any drop off could jeopardize his spot. Oliver Perez probably has a spot too as a lefty specialist. That would leave Enny Romero, Matt Grace, Sammy Solis, Shawn Kelley, and Glover fighting for the last couple spots along with starters Erick Fedde and Edwin Jackson. Fedde is showing he has great stuff. He could be a top option for the postseason ‘pen if he not needed in the rotation. The team has limited his innings so far this year, so even if he makes 9 more starts at around 6 innings a start – he’d be around 140 total innings at the end of the year. I would assume 160 innings would be his limit since he pitched less than 130 last year (and that was Strasburg’s infamous limit). Romero and Glover need to show they’re healthy, and if they do they would both probably make the team.
Despite a huge lead over a mediocre division, the Nats have a lot of interesting storylines to watch over these last 53 games. If Strasburg gets right, this is probably the best Nationals team we’ve ever seen. Figuring out which 25 guys will make the postseason should keep things interesting as they play out the last third of the season. Plus, it’ll give us something to talk about other than who hits second.Tags: Brian Goodwin, Jayson Werth, Michael A Taylor, Nationals, Nats, Trea Turner, Washington Nationals
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