Gloom and doom. It says it in my signature line. Who else was going to write this post?
They had five aces. They had veterans at every position on the field. They had a burgeoning superstar in right field. They had the reigning N.L. Manager of the Year. What could go wrong?
As we know, just about every damn thing.
Tasked now with describing what this year's worst-case scenario would be for the 2016 Nats, I feel the blueprint is pretty well laid out from last season.
First, let's talk about the injuries. No one likes to use injuries as an excuse, but they're unavoidable. Injuries, simply, will happen. Good teams plan for them to mitigate the impact. The problem here is that the Nats have to depend on two aging players in key positions that now have an injury history.
Studies show that once a player has been injured, he's more likely to get injured again. And again. And again.
Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth now own an injury history. It's likely they both get injured and miss a significant portion of the season.*
(* = Significant portion of the season means at least a stint on the disabled list.)
Zimmerman has been on the D.L. at least once in each of the last five years. What's more problematic is that for three months last season he played through an injury that should have had him on the D.L.
Plantar fasciitis can be debilitating for an athlete, and the only real solution is rest.
In the last four years, Werth's missed chunks of three, losing 87, 32 and 78 games.
He started late last season rehabbing from shoulder surgery that he didn't have until after the first of the year, then he hurt his left wrist.
Unlike Zimmerman, he was never right at the plate, slogging his was through a miserable .221/.302/.384 season.
When they lose time this season -- and they will -- the replacements are Clint Robinson and Michael Taylor. Those are decent fall-back options. The problem is when they are in the lineup everyday, it depletes what should be a pretty decent bench.
Last year, the bullpen was a train wreck. It's been completely overhauled, but will it be any better?
Starting from the back end (see what I did there?), the closer is Jonathan Papelbon. Numbers-wise, Papelbon is about as consistent as it gets for a closer. But a closer look at his year on the field last year shows some caution signs. He was lights out in the first half, but his swinging K-rate on his slider and splitter after the All-Star break was just 14 percent, compared to over 20 percent in the first half. His fastball is nowhere near as dominant as it once was, so if hitters are laying off the secondary offerings, he could find some trouble.
Setting up and the resident closer-in-waiting is Shawn Kelley, who strikes out 11.0 per nine. He's part of the solution. After that, there are questions aplenty. Felipe Rivero has exactly 48 1/3 innings of big league experience. Oliver Perez saw his ERA, WHIP and hit rate all jump last year. Blake Treinen still can't solve lefties. Yusmeiro Petit's K-rate dropped by three strikeouts per nine innings from '14 to '15, despite starting 11 fewer games. That's alarming. Also, he only has one "plus" pitch, his curve. He yields a .600 slugging percentage on his fastball. And Trevor Gott is less experienced than Rivero and barely struck out more than he walked last year.
You want cause for worry? You can find major red flags in every one of those pitchers except Kelley. And even he had a "forearm strain" in September.
The rotation, for better or worse, is set. You can read my long take on it here. Really, it all boils down to Tanner Roark and Joe Ross, because for a team that expects to contend there are no other options other than phenom Lucas Giolito. And if one of the big three goes down? There's your worst-case scenario right there.
Seriously, there was a lot of argument in the comments to my piece about the rotation depth, and how Taylor Jordan, Taylor Hill, Austin Voth or even Petit would be fine in the Nats rotation should the need arise for a second starting pitcher after Giolito makes the leap, but none of those four pitchers, at this point in their careers, are viable candidates for a staring rotation of a playoff-caliber team.
Okay, here's your worst-case scenario:
For the first two months of the season, Roark pitches like he did last season instead of '14 and Ross struggles as we can imagine a 23-year-old might, now that opponents have a book on him. Meanwhile, Papelbon saves 75 percent of save opps instead of 80 percent, Perez loses the strike zone as he's shown capable in the past, Treinen still can't get lefties out and Gott isn't ready for the big time.
Gio Gonzalez isn't helped by Mike Maddux, walks more than ever and barely pitches five innings a night, overtaxing the bullpen yet again.
Meanwhile, Danny Espinosa hits .205/.290/.330 while Trea Turner is lighting up Syracuse with his speed and Daniel Murphy commits more errors than he hits homers.
LASIK doesn't help Wilson Ramos and he plays exactly like he did last year.
Werth tears a hamstring doing a pop-up slide in 40 degree weather and Zimmerman's foot pain acts up again standing around for three hours a night. Taylor OBPs .275 subbing for Werth, Robinson is exposed as a career minor leaguer playing first everyday for Zimmerman.
On June 1, the Nats aren't even .500 while the Mets are winning two out of three in every series and the Marlins -- yes, the Marlins -- enjoy a resurgence behind a healthy Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton.
At that point, Giolito and Turner are finally summoned from the minors, and are both injured in a rookie hazing incident initiated by Papelbon.
And the whole time, Dusty Baker is sitting back singing kumbaya and reminiscing about the time he hung out with Jimi Hendrix.
The real doomsday scenario: All this plays out while Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper enjoy All-Star seasons and Stephen Strasburg dominates in his walk year, only to absolutely price himself out of returning to D.C.