Their big offseason acquisition, Adam Eaton, failed to survive April before going down with a season-ending knee injury, a sign of things to come. Key cogs Trea Turner and Jayson Werth returned this week after being out since June. Emerging outfielder Michael Taylor was unavailable from early July through mid-August. Various relievers have spent time on the disabled list (though the bullpen often seemed disabled when fully healthy).
Yet, here we are, with Washington enjoying a 15-game lead in the National League East as the calendar flips to September.
Despite a barrage of injuries, the Nats are on pace for 99 wins, which would top the franchise-record 98 posted in 2012. They’ve been models of consistency. Their last two-game losing streak occurred Aug. 1-Aug. 2. The team hasn’t lost three in a row since June 29-July 1.
You think the Dodgers are impressed?
Los Angeles not only has baseball’s best record, it has the benefit of confidence, too. Any doubts about a postseason matchup are assuaged by reflecting on last year when the Dodgers beat Washington in the first round. The Nats didn’t have an answer, same as in 2014 against the Giants and 2012 against the Cardinals.
This year feels different. The Nats have posted the major’s best mark before and it didn’t help (2012). They were heavy favorites then, but won’t be this time. And that’s OK.
Injured Bryce Harper might not be himself – if he’s back at all – when the playoffs start. Accepted. Stephen Strasburg could miss a turn with blisters, cramps or hangnails. Great. Max Scherzer’s neck might flare up. Wonderful. Werth could become old in a hurry. Fine.
But not having their full complement of players for long stretches this season might turn out to be a good thing. At least that’s the hope. After relying on replacements like Wilmer Difo, Adam Lind and Brian Goodwin for so long, resiliency should be second nature for the team when October rolls around.
The Nats traditionally find ways to lose once the postseason begins. But they developed a knack for overcoming adversity this year.
Now they simply must carry it over to advance for the first time.