Jul 9, 2015, 11:38 AM EDT
Had they not been rained out Wednesday night, the Nationals would have fielded a lineup boasting only two projected members of their Opening Day lineup: Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond. And when they return to the field Friday night in Baltimore, the Nationals probably won’t have more than four regulars available: Harper and Desmond, plus Wilson Ramos and perhaps Yunel Escobar (who will have had three days off to rest his hamstring).
Matt Williams has said he can see “the light ahead,” with injured players getting healthier and getting closer to returning to the lineup. But there isn’t a particularly definitive timeline for any of those players, aside from perhaps Jayson Werth, who has been targeting an August 1 return all along from a broken wrist.
Ryan Zimmerman? He has been hitting and taking grounders in the field, but he hasn’t been able to run yet without a recurrence of foot pain due to his plantar fasciitis. And even when he does come off the DL, this is probably an ailment that’s going to remain a problem to some extent over the rest of the season.
Anthony Rendon? He has missed the last two weeks with a strained quadriceps muscle, and there has been no indication he’s on the verge of coming back. And this is the third separate injury he has suffered this season, leaving him sidelined for all but 18 games to date.
Denard Span? He’s in Dallas today visiting a back specialist and quite worried he has a more serious ailment than everyone has believed since he first began experiencing back spasms a month ago. Span has already made it clear he won’t be playing this weekend. And if that’s the case, a DL stint certainly appears more likely than not.
Could all of those players return in relative short order and make it through the rest of the season intact? Sure, that’s possible. But is it probable? And is it probable the rest of the roster can avoid injury over the season’s second half? That’s some real wishful thinking.
All of which may lead you to the following conclusion: The Nationals need to seriously consider acquiring another starting position player prior to the July 31 trade deadline.
Yes, they’re currently in first place in the NL East, 3 games ahead of a Mets club that would kill to only be dealing with the Nats’ current offensive woes. Yes, they’ve got an electric rotation that can carry the load the rest of the way if needed. And yes, they’ve been getting some really nice contributions from players who weren’t expected to play on a daily basis, most notably Clint Robinson, Danny Espinosa and Michael Taylor.
In the big picture, the Nationals haven’t been a sub-par offensive club this season. They rank fourth in the NL in runs scored, fourth in homers, third in walks, fifth in on-base and slugging percentages, fourth in OPS.
But not once this season has Matt Williams been able to fill out a lineup card with all eight of his projected regulars on it. And there’s no guarantee that day will come before the 2015 season is complete.
The Nationals probably could get away with the long-term loss of only one of their regulars. Say Span ends up missing significant time. Well, Taylor has shown he’s capable of filling in as the regular center fielder. Except they’ve needed him in left field with Werth out.
A Robinson-Tyler Moore platoon could probably hold its own in left field under that scenario, but those guys have been needed at first base with Zimmerman out.
Espinosa showed he could handle first base for a brief stint last month, but he’s needed at second base with Rendon out.
See the problem here? The Nationals have a bunch of versatile players capable of filling a variety of roles. But there are too many holes right now to be filled, and some position always ends up uncovered.
So maybe it’s time for Mike Rizzo to start getting serious about acquiring another everyday-caliber player. It could be an outfielder. It could be a corner infielder. It could be a middle infielder. Better yet, it could be somebody who can do any of those things (hello, Ben Zobrist!).
Yes, the Nationals might end up with their entire lineup healthy before it’s all said and done, with no need for a reinforcement. But given what you’ve seen so far this year, how confident are you that’s going to happen?
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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