The Nationals are cruising to their fourth division title in six years. Most importantly, they have played well with an MLB-high 12 men on the disabled list. On the night Jayson Werth and Max Scherzer came off the disabled list, they clown-pounded the white-hot Marlins. They followed that up by completing the sweep with Vintage Strasmas: Stephen Strasburg pitching a complete-game shutout in which he also homered. Trea Turner is back and running all over the bases. This team is getting healthy, and game one against the Marlins is a reminder of what this lineup can do when healthy. Regular season success is nice, but the playoffs is what matters. Thomas Boswell put it so eloquently, as emblazoned on the walls of the Hall of Fame:
“Baseball is really two sports — the summer game and the autumn game. One is the leisurely pastime of our national mythology. The other is not so gentle.”
By the time you read this article, it’ll be September. As we all know, that means rosters expand and anyone on the 40-man roster is eligible to be called up. Chief among the certain recalls will be Pedro Severino, the catching prospect who the Nationals are fond of, at least to the extent that they wouldn’t trade him straight-up for White Sox closer David Robertson. The next few minutes of your life will not be spent reading about why Severino is the next Buster Posey, or even why he should be starting games: neither is really true. Pedro has found some success at the Major League level which I will discuss in a minute, but his inability to get on base consistently or hit for much power at any level is why he has not been banging down Matt Wieter’s door this season. Instead, this is a condemnation of one of baseball’s worst hitters in 2017: Jose Lobaton.
When talking about the National League Cy Young award, the talking heads only seem to talk about two names: Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw. And while those are good names to discuss, that’s not the name they should be talking about. Right in the middle of the talks should be Gio Gonzalez.
With the injuries continuing to worry Nationals fans even as the division lead is steady at over a dozen games, there are questions as to whether Washington needs some more reinforcements. The bullpen has suddenly become elite but with serious questions as to Ryan Madson’s health the rest of year, the right addition could be fruitful. The starting pitching has as much top-end talent as any team in baseball, but injury questions are a big enough worry that another major league arm could ease pressure. The lineup, filled with replacements, have performed magnificently in the absence of stars like Adam Eaton, Jayson Werth, Trea Turner, and Bryce Harper, but with so many players playing at what seems to be peak performance, a reverse to average could decimate production.
On June 29th, after Trea Turner unsuccessfully tried to turn away from a 96 mph 2-1 fastball up and in from Pedro Strop of the Cubs, a lot of things happened: First, Turner walked slowly to first on a hit by pitch, the Nationals scored three runs that inning and took the lead, and the (then) horrific bullpen coughed up that lead in the top of the 9th. The other thing that happened was Turner’s right wrist was broken, sidelining him for what appears to be an approximately 8-week stint on the disabled list (Turner is currently rehabbing in AAA Syracuse).
With all the injuries decimating the Nationals this season, Nats outfielders have been dropping like flies. And with Bryce Harper and Brian Goodwin going down quickly, Michael A. Taylor’s return was nothing short of a blessing. It was also at the perfect time, coming during the stretch in which they played three games in about twenty-four hours, and help was so desperately needed.
The 2017 season has been one of many surprises, both good and bad. The Nationals have been absolutely decimated by injuries, but a few not-so-big names have stepped ably into their place. At 73-47, the Nationals are on a 99-win pace and hold a comfortable 14-game division lead. But if they hadn’t had their major injuries, would they be on a 106-win pace? Or if their bench hadn’t stepped up, would they be on their way to 87 wins? Let’s break down all these surprises and see if we can’t figure out the impact they’ve had on this team.
Every year in April, I think about how ridiculous the term “dog days of summer” is. How do people become bored and uninterested when it comes to a baseball team they love and every game matters so much and counts the same as any other? Then August rolls around. I’ll admit it: I was entirely indifferent towards the result of a Harper-less, Turner-less, Werth-less (no pun intended, but fitting) Wednesday night game against the Angels. As I said to my mom as we drove across the country to move my stuff back into school for senior year, “honestly I’m just listening to the game so I know if anyone else gets hurt.” Granted, part of this comes with the benefit of a double-digit division lead with no real competition for the NL East title since May. Still, as an aware baseball fan, the games that matter that don’t include men in a curly W are worth following. To help Nationals fans, I put together the August Awareness Guide (with the understanding that unless you have MLB.tv, many of these games can’t be watched) so you can know what scores to keep an eye on over the next two weeks.