Winter Meetings bring possibility, anxiety

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In D.C., mentioning the Nationals on the street right now would be a crime, with the 5-6 Redskins poised to make a mediocre run into forgettable history. (The Capitals? What Capitals? The Wizards? Is that some new fringe card game like Pokemon? ). But months from now, when the hot summer sun is beating down and the ballpark is alive once again, with fans, music and baseball, this week will be an important one to look back on – in fact, it may be the biggest factor in those summer months. So go ahead, talk about the team. Just don’t be worried when you get some crazy looks. Because, believe it or not, despite the temperature and the date, the Nationals are at a critical junction, possibly more critical than any they’ll face all season, and it’s unclear to everyone, maybe even including the General Manager Mike Rizzo, where they’ll go from here.

The Lerners, who sit up in ownership, have serious decisions to make about how they’ll use their money – whether it’ll be taking on an already bloated contract, trading a fan favorite (yes, your favorite player, be worried) or adding a free agent. Mike Rizzo has some serious decisions to make as well, regarding the cutting and trading of Papelbon and Storen, respectively, adding to the bullpen, and adding offensive pop as well as figuring out who it’s okay to part with. And in all likelihood, if the Nats feel like making a huge splash, it’s going to happen this week, at the Winter Meetings in Nashville.

If there was ever a moment for front office staff to feel like players on the first day of Spring Training, full of belief and hope that they can really go all the way this year, it would be at the Winter Meetings. The Winter Meetings, which for reasons unknown, are run by Minor League Baseball, have no boundaries. For one time, and only one time during the year, everything and everyone seems to be on the table. Rumors fly rampant and only the most elite of the stars are left out of them. Free-agents meet with teams (paging Ben Zobrist…) For the Nationals, they’ve been linked to everyone from O’Day to Chapman, Zobrist to Rollins and everyone in between, including Jonathan Lucroy. Players on the table have ranged from Strasburg to Ramos as well as Espinosa and Escobar. Papelbon and Storen, two players ironically linked, have come up in every conversation. It’s a given that some moves will be made. However, the question of what the right moves are still looms.

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Don’t Press The Panic Button on Doug Fister

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From the get-go, it didn’t look all too great last night. Even with a half full O.Co colliseum, a low stakes game and a huge ballpark, Doug Fister just did not have it last night. He gave up three home runs and took the loss for the Nats. But don’t, repeat, don’t, press the panic button just yet.

Even though the Nationals’ 4th starter has been traditionally bad these past two years, Fister should be different. One bad game happened for a couple of reasons.

The biggest reason is that it was basically his Opening Day, he was amped, and didn’t have his A stuff, since he was focused on things too mentally. Basic plays like the throw to first in the first inning would get done during the rest of the year – it’s quite literally jitters.

This is also an Oakland team that has studied Detroit and their pitchers for the past two years, as they’ve played each other in two ALDS series since 2012. Doug, being traded from the Tigers, had seen them many times. This team was not unfamiliar with him from those experiences, or just seeing him as a Mariner or Tiger.

Another large reason here is the injury. The arm and all looked fine last night – but he hasn’t faced real batters all year. He missed the end of Spring Training, which is actually crucial for pitchers to see batters that are going to be in the big leagues and actually trying. The last team he faced was a AA team.

So, please. History repeats itself, but it’s highly unlikely it will in this case of Doug Fister.

Murphy’s Law Strikes Again, Takes Harper

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Less than a week ago, Harper left the game for not hustling enough in Matt Williams’ opinion during a routine groundout. The Nationals eventually lost.

Six days later the Nationals lead by two against the Padres. Bases loaded. Harper hit one deep into right, off the scoreboard. The runners scored, and after his briefing with Matt Williams, Harper wanted a triple. He slid headfirst into third, safe.

But when the next inning began, McClouth replaced Harper in left field. Fans assumed he had just jammed his thumb, and would come back soon. But on Sunday, the Nationals announced he would go on the fifteen-day DL.

Where have we heard this story before?

Oh, wait, we all know. Opening Day, with Ramos. Against the Braves on April 11, with Zimmerman. Fister in his second to last spring training game.

Lady luck has not smiled upon the Nationals with injuries so far this season. Starters have already combined for more than roughly 43 games lost this season, all big blows.

Many things with the ability to go wrong went wrong. Harper sliding into third. Zimmerman with second. Ramos on a foul ball. Fister on a pitch.

But here’s the good news.

The Nats have won 56 percent of their games without Ramos’ big bat, and have gone 7-6 against two very good teams after the Braves series without Zimmerman. Desmond & Werth are stepping it up while Espinosa, LaRoche, Rendon and Lobaton continue to hit. Plus, the time left on the DL remaining for Fister runs out soon, and Zimmerman and Ramos can both come back by mid-late May.

Nats est. DL time left (C/O NatsWX)

Nats est. DL time left (C/O NatsWX)

Harper’s sprain hopefully won’t mean ligamental damage, and the Nats may pick up where they left off very soon.