Washington Nationals: Worst Case Scenario Revisited

Win McNamee

With a day off to think about things, we take a look back at the potential "Worst Case" scenario we imagined before the season started for what could go wrong for the 2013 Washington Nationals. Ryan Zimmerman's shoulder? Denard Span? Rotation depth?

I hesitated to put this post together for three reasons: 1. I've seen the numbers, and know it's the longest of long shots right now, but I still haven't given up/waved the white flag on this season, so looking back at preseason predictions seems premature. 2. Winter is coming. Not in a Game of Thrones sense, but in a "4-5 months of making up things to write about" sense and this sort of post is prime "Winter" material. 3. I'm firmly in the camp of Tom Reagan from Miller's Crossing in that when it comes to I told you so posts, "'I don't say that and I don't like people who do.'" And anyway this isn't really an "I told you so" thing. And it was an "I told you so post" that started me thinking about this, more on that later, but first...

Before the season we contributed two responses to a post at SB Nation MLB which asked for our Best/Worst Case scenarios for each of the teams we covered, so the Nationals in our case, of course. Here's the Worst Case scenario for the 2013 Nationals we penned back in early-to-mid-March which took the form of a bunch of questions (Then), with commentary added for a hindsight/how it played out perspective (Now):

Worst Case:

Then: What if Ryan Zimmerman’s surgically repaired shoulder causes him issues?

Now: 17 errors. 12 throwing errors. A hard-to-ignore drop in power though he's still crushed a few (with a "few" = 13 after Zim hit 25 last season.) More talk of Zim eventually moving to first. Zimmerman still doesn't seem 100%, Davey Johnson's acknowledged as much. Will the throwing ever not look painful again?

Then: What if Danny Espinosa’s torn rotator cuff proves too big a hindrance and the Nationals have to start Steve Lombardozzi for a prolonged period? Half of the fans in Washington, D.C. just said the Nats would be better off with Lombo at second. Just so you know. What’s wrong with optimism? Some people just like Lombo, what? And worst case scenario, if Lombardozzi’s exposed as an everyday player, is that the Nationals might have to bring 2011 1st Round pick Anthony Rendon up early. That’s how they’re rolling these days. What’s up, Mets?

Now: Ugh. Danny Espinosa put up a .158/.193/.272 line in 44 games and 167 PAs before the Nationals pulled the plug and went to Anthony Rendon, who's filled in admirably, though the Nats probably didn't plan on his first full healthy pro season being played mostly at the major league level Espinosa hasn't hit in Triple-A either, with a .208/.283/.292 line in 55 games and 227 PAs. I keep going back to the first interview in which he talked about his rotator cuff being torn, two days before the story "broke" on the Nats beat. Had a bad feeling about Espinosa from the moment I heard that. Lombardozzi has had trouble living up to his production during his rookie campaign... I don't know why I taunted the Mets at the end of that paragraph above. Just a jerk, I guess.

Then: What if the Nationals lose one of their starters? [We refuse to imagine specific injury scenarios.] Starting depth is an acknowledged weakness, behind Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren that is. After that it’s basically Zach Duke, Craig Stammen, Yunesky Maya, Chris Young(?) and the next wave of young prospects coming up after the Nationals dealt the likes of Tom Milone, Brad Peacock and Alex Meyer over the last two winters. An injury to a pitcher could cause a lot of trouble.

Now: Or what if Haren underperforms for 3/4s of the season and there are injuries to Ross Detwiler all season, a stint on the DL for Strasburg and a criminal lack of run support for the right-hander. Or what if Gio Gonzalez doesn't live up to the 21-game-winning first season in D.C.? Detwiler's injury issues have made him something of a non-factor this season though he pitched well on occasion. The Nationals did turn to Duke and Stammen for some help, but not Maya or Young, with Nate Karns, Taylor Jordan and Ross Ohlendorf surprising some by coming up, filling in and impressing when they may not have been on many people's radars before this year. Starting depth has been an issue, sort-of as expected. What Davey Johnson described as the "inconsistent" pitching he got from his starters has been an issue too, as has the lack of offense.

Then: What if Wilson Ramos doesn’t fully recover from surgery to repair a torn ACL and meniscus? Well, they do have Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano

Now: The knee wasn't an issue for Ramos. He got back to 100% faster than anyone planned and earned the Opening Day start in part for the hard work he did, according to Davey Johnson. It was two hamstring injuries that cost the Nats' recently-turned 26-year-old catcher time on the DL this season. Kurt Suzuki filled in admirably, but played a lot while Ramos was out and seemed tired by the time Ramos returned. The good news here? Since returning from the DL, Ramos has a .316/.337/.516 line with four doubles and five home runs in 26 G and 98 PAs. Be interesting to see what he does with a full season at 26 yo. if he can stay healthy in 2014.

Then: Uh? What if Bryce Harper has a sophomore slum… I’m sorry. Harp’s good. Moving on.

Now: Maybe I shouldn't have moved on so quickly and maybe I should have considered the possibility. The knee injury and the running into walls and stuff has been a big factor, but I'm really surprised by Harper's #s against LHPs. You'd settle for last season's .240/.300/.415 line vs LHPs right now considering Harper's .172/.270/.276 line vs lefties this season. How did playing hurt affect Harper's production before he admitted he had to sit? How close to 100% is he right now? He's got to figure out the issues with lefties.

Then: What if Denard Span doesn’t produce as expected and Michael Morse continues to crush oppo bombs in Seattle, making the decision to trade Morse look like a bad idea?

Now: To be clear, I'm not a part of the "Morse was the heart and soul of this team" crowd, but I am a part of the, "Why hasn't Denard Span hit lefties?" crowd. And in spite of his recent uptick, I'd take the Minnesota Twins' .283/.342/.395 2012 Span, but the .263/.313/.362 2013 Span isn't providing the OBP Mike Rizzo hoped he'd get out of the 29-year-old outfielder when he dealt for him this winter. And his .167/.221/.202 line vs lefties this year is sort of brutal for an everyday-ish top-of-the-order hitter. Will he improve the second time around in the NL? And Alex Meyer, the 23-year-old right-hander traded to the Twins is putting together a nice season (3-3, 3.75 ERA, 78 Ks, 11.20 K/9 in 62 2/3 IP), but if Span were performing up to the Nats' expectations you probably wouldn't hear too many complaints about dealing one of three 2011 1st Round picks for an everyday player.

Then: What if the Phillies’ pitchers aren’t quite done yet?

Now: Whatever, Phillies.

Then: What if the Upton, Upton, Heyward outfield in Atlanta is as good as the Braves expect it to be?

Now: Yeah, so things have worked out OK for Atlanta, though their outfield probably isn't the main reason they're running away with the NL East.

Then: What if the Nationals’ right-handed relievers don’t get left-handers out like the Nats are hoping they will and the fact that they didn’t get a second left-handed reliever comes back to haunt them all summer or cost them late in the season?

Now: Nats' GM Mike Rizzo eventually acknowledged that things didn't go as planned here in spite of the Nats' right-handers' #'s against LHB's, and the Nationals have gotten surprising and impressive contributions from the two lefties that they eventually brought in: Fernando Abad and Ian Krol. Though they've faltered recently. It took Davey Johnson a while to get the right mix in the bullpen and get comfortable with the reconfigured pen which was a strength for the Nationals previously.

Then: Any of those things could go wrong. All of them go wrong and the worst case scenario is a lot of folks writing about how they told the Nats they should have kept Strasburg going last year because you never know when you’ll make a real run again… [shudders ]

Now: Yeah... so... There's this. [CLICK HERE]

And this:

Maybe, he was being sarcastic? This guy doesn't seem to be going for sarcasm:

Why mention that Strasburg's doctor and the team came up with the plan for him... or that they'd previously tried spacing out starts to get deeper in the season (with Jordan Zimmermann) and found it didn't go well. Or... eh, whatever. This stuff might get worse than the actual "Shutdown" talk...

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