When Bryce Harper was reinstated from the D/L on 6/30/14, an interesting situation occurred: The Nationals were at full strength for the first time, all year.
That’s right. With Doug Fister starting the season on the D/L, even those who think that the team was at “full strength” for the first 7 innings of the first game (that’s how long it took before a Nationals offensive starter got hurt) aren’t quite right. This team has been hampered and has been covering for injuries to its best available squad since the first day of the season. Here’s a review of the tale of the injury tape for the ideal 25-man roster of this team so far in 2014:
- Doug Fister; strained shoulder 3/23/14, missed 34 games
- Wilson Ramos: broken hand on 4/1/14, missed 32 games
- Scott Hairston; oblique strain on 4/6/14, missed 26 games
- Denard Span, concussion on 4/12/14, missed 7 games
- Ryan Zimmerman, broken thumb on 4/13/14, missed 44 games
- Bryce Harper: torn thumb tendon on 4/27/14, missed 56 games
- Adam LaRoche: strained quad on 5/11/14, missed 14 games
- Gio Gonzalez, shoulder strain on 5/18/14, missed 27 games
- Ramos again, this time a hamstring strain on 6/11/14, missed 14 games
2/5ths of the rotation and 5/8ths of the starting offense have at one time or another been on the shelf so far this year. More than 250 games lost. Ironically the oldest player on the team (Jayson Werth) has been one if its healthiest (he’s only missed 4 games this year). And (knock on wood) there hasn’t been a single bullpen injury, likely one of the main reasons the Nats bullpen is among the best in the game this year.
The Nats (at the time of this writing) sit 1/2 a game out of first behind nemesis Atlanta, but have several reasons to be optimistic about catching them:
- The Nats have a +39 run differential right now, while the Braves have a zero run differential. That means that the Nats should be 9 games above .500 (according to pythagorean records) while the Braves should be a .500 team. The Nats have been unlucky while the Braves have been quite lucky. You could expect these situations to reverse themselves over the rest of the season.
- The Nats are just 2-7 in extra inning games and 9-13 in one-run games. You’d normally expect both of these W/L records to be near .500 and is likely the real reason behind the above run differential issue.
- Despite the heart of their batting order missing dozens and dozens of games, the offense is not doing half bad: the Nats as a team are 8th out of 15 in the NL in WRC+, 8th in runs scored, 8th in wOBA, 10th in batting average, and are 10th in homers despite Zimmerman having just THREE on the year.
- While the Offense treads water, the Pitching has been fantastic. Our starters are 5th in the NL in ERA, 1st in FIP, 2nd in xFIP, 2nd in SIERA. The bullpen has been equally as good (a huge improvement over last year): 2nd in NL ERA, 1st in FIP, 6th in SIERA.
- The starters lead the NL in FIP despite Stephen Strasburg‘s “struggles;” ironically despite his having a .500 record an a 3.70 ERA he has the best FIP of any Nats starter. He’s just been victim of circumstance while he pitches. Blake Treinen has been fantastic covering in the rotation, and the team has found an excellent 5th starter in Tanner Roark. Games that were “thrown away” time and again last year by Dan Haren and a litany of poor-performing minor league call-ups have been handled with aplumb this year.
Where do we go from here?
The Nats schedule from here on out eases significantly; as of the time of this writing the last three months look like this:
- July: 10 of 25 games against teams with winning records right now
- August: 12 of 28 games against teams with winning records right now … and that includes teams that very well may have losing records by the time we get to them.
- September: Just 9 of 27 games against teams with winning records right now, including the final 11 against Marlins and Mets teams likely to be playing out the string with 40-man call-ups from AAA and key young arms sitting due to inning limits.
For this Nats fan, its hard to see the same struggles we saw last year; I see a team finally getting their squad back together, having a solid July and perhaps a dominant closing to the season to fulfil its promise. I like where this team stands right now (even with the tepid split in Chicago last weekend) and look forward to the next few months.