WASHINGTON — This is the lineup that started Friday’s game against the supposed NL East rival New York Mets:
Oh, right. Players Weekend. Well in case you aren’t big into translating nicknames, here’s the lineup by name:
Andrew Stevenson, RF
Adrian Sanchez, 3B
Daniel Murphy, 2B
Adam Lind, 1B
Wilmer Difo, SS
Michael Taylor, CF
Alejandro De Aza, LF
Jose Lobaton, C
A.J. Cole, P
The bolded name there, Murphy, is the only one out of those nine players who started Opening Day.
As The Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo pointed out, one the team’s minor-league affiliates had more of those original nine starters on the field Friday night than the major-league squad did.
While this is an extreme case, it’s far from the only such occurrence of this Nationals team playing with more prospects than pros. Just one game prior, Washington started Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon and Matt Wieters along with four other positional players who weren’t on the Opening Day starting nine. (Stephen Strasburg was on the mound.)
And this exercise hardly takes into account the pitchers. Consider Max Scherzer is dealing with a neck injury and Joe Ross tore his UCL and will miss the rest of the season and likely at least part of next season, as well.
As for relievers, Koda Glover was thought to be a potential closer for the Nats this year, but he’s on the Disabled List with a back injury for the foreseeable future. Enny Romero had picked up some of the considerable bullpen slack earlier in the season, but he’s sidelined with a forearm injury. Ryan Madson was brought in ahead of the trade deadline to offer a reliable option in the setup role with the ability to close, but he’s now on the DL with a finger injury.
Seriously, just look at this list (via Baseball-Reference):
Not only is that an exceptionally long list of injured players, but those are players expected to be serious contributors.
In Scherzer and Bryce Harper, you have arguably your best pitcher and best position player.
In Trea Turner you have a guy who took the league by storm a year ago and has still stolen more than three times as many bases as anybody else on the Nationals — and almost as many as the rest of the team combined.
In Adam Eaton you lose the coup, the center fielder and leadoff hitter you deemed so important that you traded away a three-pack of prized prospects, and he was hitting .297 with seven doubles in just 23 games before the likely season-ending injury.
In Jayson Werth you lost a guy who was enjoying a bounce-back season, with eight homers and five doubles in 47 games while sporting a respectable .262/.367/.446 line.
Stephen Drew, Ryan Rayburn and Brian Goodwin had all been valuable contributors off the bench before eventually playing more and more due to other injuries. Each of those three players was hitting at least .250 prior to their injuries.
Granted, many of the players above are expected to return by the start of the postseason, and the Nationals — who did, in fact, lose Friday’s game against the Mets — remain 12.5 games up in the division with just 36 games to go. So there is theoretically a light at the end of the tunnel.
In fact, going back to that Castillo tweet, the two Opening Day players getting reps in Potomac were Turner and Werth, who are both expected to make their return to the big-league roster in the coming week or so.
But it’s absolutely gut-wrenching for Nationals fans, so accustomed to regular season success and postseason collapse, to see nearly half the team working back from injury as the long summer comes to a bandaged conclusion. With a little luck, they’ll enter the postseason in more or less the same health as every other team; but if things continue at this rate, Dusty Baker might be slipping on the helmet.