The Washington Nationals: Getting Healthy and Ready for the Postseason
Just for a moment, forget the fact that the Washington Nationals have the second-highest winning percentage in all of baseball, and are currently tied with the Chicago Cubs for the best record in the National League since the All-Star break.
What might be the most impressive takeaway for this Washington Nationals is how they’ve continued to play at a high level all year long, even in the face of all the injuries this roster has endured.
Consider the fact that, in the month of August, the Nationals had 11 player on the disabled list. And we’re not just talking role players here, either. Adam Eaton, the team’s biggest offseason acquisition, was lost to a season-ending injury in just the 23rd game of the season. Starting pitcher Joe Ross had Tommy John surgery this summer. Stephen Strasburg made what seems to be his annual prolonged stint on the DL. First baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the team leader in RBI and home runs, missed a few games in August.
Outfielder Jayson Werth and shortstop Trea Turner had prolonged stints as well. Ace pitcher Max Scherzer, who has looked like the best player period in all of baseball for much of the year, missed a significant chunk of time. And in mid-August, Bryce Harper went down with what initially appeared to be a scary knee injury; while Nationals fans exhaled in relief when they found out there wasn’t any extensive damage to Harper’s knee, he’s still on the disabled list to date.
And yet, we’re still looking at a Nationals team that is only five games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in all of baseball. If it wasn’t for the team’s success in past years, Nationals skipper Dusty Baker would be a strong contender for the National League Manager of the Year award.
Heading into the second weekend of September, Washington reduced its magic number for winning the division to three. Even as they continue to call up a slew of players from the minor leagues headlined by 20-year old Victor Robles, one of the top young prospects in baseball this team keeps plugging along.
For all the notoriety around the pitching staff assembled by the Dodgers, the Nationals still have Scherzer (who is one of the favorites for the NL Cy Young Award yet again), Strasburg (who is 2-1 with a 0.67 ERA since returning from the DL on August 19th), and Gio Gonzalez (a team-high 14 wins and an ERA of 2.50, good for third in the National League). In fact, Washington’s top 10 pitchers five starters and five best relievers have an almost unheard of 2.24 ERA since the break. The moshpit of relief pitcher acquisitions like Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler have put a big cork in the Nationals’ bullpen woes that plagued them earlier this season.
Washington will spend the remaining few weeks balancing trying to get healthy Turner is back, and Harper and Werth are days away from returning themselves and trying to chase the Dodgers for the #1 seed in the National League (Los Angeles has lost 13 of its last 14 games, dating back to August 26th). The three game series between the two teams at Chavez Ravine will obviously have major implications in that race.
But as far as the National League playoff race, while most people keep talking about the Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, and Arizona Diamondbacks, the Nationals might be one of the most dangerous teams heading into October.