It’s not ideal, to say the least. The Nationals have fallen to what you could argue has been their worst foe over the past few years, once again – the injury bug.
This year has been marked as the last year when a core group of players will all be together before free-agency. This year has possibly the most “World Series or Bust” connotations no matter what the management or players tell you. However, it’s going to be pretty hard to win without a 1-2-3 punch. The Nats have lost their players in the top three spots in the lineup due to injury, all of whom were incredibly productive last year and a key reason why the ballclub made it as far as they did.
Denard Span, after a Sports Hernia Surgery, felt pain in a right core muscle and had to undergo surgery. He’ll won’t return anywhere from the third week of the season to mid-May. Anthony Rendon went down and is doubtful for opening day with a sprained MCL. Jayson Werth underwent surgery on his shoulder over the offseason and will be sitting out for a few days or a week from Opening Day barring a sudden spur in recovery speed.
The lineup is now left with three replacements preparing for Opening Day and new spots opening up. It may not look bright, but this may be the best thing to happen to the Nationals all season.
Consistent bench production is one of the harder things in baseball to manage, and the Nationals have struggled since their first division championship in 2012 to get the type of appearances off the bench that they so desperately need. But, without consistent playing time or any chance to get into the swing of things, many bench players struggle at the beginning and throughout the season.
But can the Nationals flip the script?
With three players out to start the season, the Nationals are going to need three replacements. In all likelihood, the outfield will be some mixture of CF prospect Michael Taylor, suddenly hot-handed 1B/LF Tyler Moore, and OF Nate McClouth. Infielders Kevin Frandsen or Danny Espinosa will fill the void Rendon left behind. This means that these players are going to have an opportunity to get what they so desperately want and need: consistent playing time. In the coming weeks, the bench players will be given more opportunity then they’ve seen in a long time, especially at the beginning of the season. They now have time to figure out their approach, get through small slumps and get into a rhythm. (This situation also gives CF Michael Taylor his opportunity to improve and show that he is the CF of the future on South Capitol Street.) And when the regulars return (all three of whom are very good at adapting when they’ve lost time), the bench players could be on call for pinch hitting, hot and ready.
The best time is now for something like this to happen, given that it’s early in the season. Time missed right now for regulars means less, given that the Pennant Chase feels like eons away and that April and May are better months to miss than August and September. MASN Color Analyst F.P. Santangelo is well known to talk about how difficult it is for a bench player to get into the swing of things with no routine, and still be ready to pinch hit. Well, the opportunity is there to change that. And if the bench players seize it, who knows what might entail.