A Third of the Way Through, Below .500, and Some Big Issues

It was a highly disappointing weekend, to say the least. I am not going to call it devastating, but things have been pretty rough, difficult to process, and a little hard to believe. But enough about Game of Thrones, let’s talk about the Nats.

They come into the middle third of the season with a 28-29 record, something well below what their talent would suggest they could do. It’s still kinda early, but it’s getting late real fast. There are a couple of major issues that right now seem to be taking its toll on the team and the fanbase. If they don’t get resolved, this team won’t live up to their potential.

Injuries and the DL 

Bryce Harper‘s injury is a big deal, because he’s Bryce.HarpPostCrash I found it hard initially to question this organization’s conservative nature thanks to their handling of Stephen Strasburg last year. But recent developments certainly make it easier to doubt their ability to handle injured players. Bryce hit the wall hard, knocked himself out, passed a concussion test and was back in. But he hasn’t been the same since then, and it seems like he really needed time off a month ago.

Bryce admitted he should have gone on the DL a month ago. It’s troubling because he is a 20 year old superstar, and probably would be playing on crutches if it were up to him. And yet, the organization thought it was ok to put him in. Yes, they can only know what he tells them about how he feels, but it is still disturbing.

Meanwhile, Jayson Werth was playing in the minors when his health was not fully 100% at the end of last week. He hurt himself again, although it only seemed to add a few days to his recovery. Ross Detwiler re-injured himself and landed on the DL after having a setback. That nature of how it happened is a little unclear, but it seemed as if he was doing workouts/drills. Maybe a few more days rest would have been smart.

And then there are the questions surrounding Danny Espinosa. He plays through pain, but his hand should have definitely put him on the DL. And even if his hand is better, I wonder if his shoulder is causing his hitting woes. He is, quite simply, not this bad. So is it possible that he’s hurt? Maybe his shoulder doesn’t hurt him, but it’s slowing his bat, or something like that, to make him unable to hit effectively. Should he have surgery at this point? I don’t know. The problem is, the Nats don’t seem to know, either.

The injuries have mounted on this team, and they don’t have the offense to deal with a missing Wilson Ramos, Werth and Harper easily. Not that they shouldn’t win without those guys, but it’s alot harder, and when the rest of the offense and the fill-ins are slumping, these injuries are felt even harder.

The Hitting/Lack Thereof

Even with the resurgence of Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche in May, this team’s hitting is atrocious. Some of that is from the injuries, as the bench players who were up for a regression from last year didn’t just regress – they starting out the exact opposite way they did last year. Lombardozzi, Moore, Tracy and Bernadina all played above their heads early on in 2012, and early on in 2013 they’ve instead played worse than what they can do.

Lombo is the only one of the 4 that has an OPS over .500, and his is only .544. This is beyond awful, and it is so rough because it was more than just a normal regression. It really should even out (these guys didn’t stay hot all 2012, and they won’t be cold all of 2013), and the end of May looked better for the 3 younger guys, but they need it to continue.

Losing Ramos isn’t talked about enough. Kurt Suzuki looks decent when compared with Espinosa, but really the catcher’s .235/.301/.333 line is awful. A big part of the reason this team can’t score is that right now, without Ramos or a competent Espi, they have nothing in the 7-9 spots in the lineup. Losing Ramos makes the bottom third of the lineup completely ineffective.

Denard Span hasn’t gotten on base enough, and his 0-for the last two games drove his OBP down to the .318 mark. It’s a little misleading, as he had a strong April and a decent (although not good) May. He isn’t the problem, but he isn’t helping much either.

Speaking of not the problem but not a huge help, there’s Ian Desmond. Without hitting .280 or so, Desi’s OBP drops below .300. We knew this could happen, you take the good with the bad. He still has a good OPS for a shortstop, is on a 20+ homer pace and has contributed. But he isn’t carrying the team the way he did last year.

Not that he’s supposed to do that, I don’t think many realistically expected him to do it. But part of the reason they were so good last year was he picked them up alot, and he’s not now. Instead of being the best hitting SS in the NL (a la 2012), Ian has been a below average hitter who can hit fairly well for his position.

There’s Still Good to be Found 

Despite all of these issues, which have led to a sub-.500 record 1/3 of the way through the season, the Nats still have hope. That hope rests on the talent of this team. Their starting pitching is strong, and assuming Strasburg isn’t out too long, they have a great top 3. Gio has looked much better in the last month than he did in his first month. Even if he doesn’t vie for a Cy Young award, those three (including JZimm) can stand with any rotation.

ZimSwingThe storyline from early on this year was the poor performance of Gio and Stras. That seems to be gone now. Again, this is contigent on Strasburg not disappearing until July, but at this point things look good with the top of the rotation. And once Detwiler makes it back the Nats would again be in a position of having one of the best overall rotations in the league.

The hitting will also improve. Span is playing worse than Span really is, and there’s no reason to think his numbers won’t even out. With him, Werth, Zim and LaRoche, they will score runs. Zim and LaRoche have both been really great in May. Like 1.000 OPS great, so they just need a little competency around them because those two are hitting. If Werth is healthy and Harper returns soon, it’s once again a really good lineup. It won’t be great unless they figure out 2B and can get Ramos back in the lineup. That isn’t clear it will happen, but the first part really should.

If the first part of that offense is the only part that comes back, they will win plenty of games. They have the pitching to shut teams down and can score enough runs to win that way. But if that second part works out, they get Ramos back and get any offense out of 2B, well, they could start looking great real fast. That’s more of a longshot, but it’s not crazy to think it would happen.

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