The Nats Biggest Weakness

Turn on MLB Network or ESPN these days, cruise around the internet for
baseball news, and when they talk about the NL East the expected order of
finish is; Nationals, Braves, Phillies, Mets, and Marlins. Nearly every expert
has that as the order of finish, and that is with the Braves having made the
biggest off-season move of any team with the acquisition of Justin
Upton. The reasons they give are that the Nats have a deeper roster and better
starting pitching. As ESPN Baseball Tonight rallies to visit Nats camp this
afternoon they question if the Nats roster has any weaknesses.  

The first weakness most would name is
injury, but injuries are a weakness to every team. They are the great
equalizer. Injuries strike without warning or malice. They don’t care if a
player is a projected Cy Young winner or the fifth starter of the
Astros. Injuries will humble the greatest of men. The Nats do have players with
injury history. Ryan Zimmerman has averaged 138 games played over the last
seven seasons, and hasn’t played over 150 since 2009. Jayson Werth is coming
off of a catastrophic wrist injury and outside of 2009-2011 he has never had
more than 395 plate appearances. Denard Span is finally expected to be healthy,
but concussions can linger and who knows how he will do playing his first full
season since 2010. Danny Espinosa has a torn rotator cuff and could need
surgery with any type of wrong landing. Last but not least, of the position players,
Wilson Ramos is coming off of a torn ACL which caused him to miss most of last
season, and it is unknown how his body will respond to the rigors of
catching. 

Then there is the pitching staff. The
starting pitching staff isn’t any more likely to get injured because they
didn’t last season, but it is worth noting that Strasburg, Zimmermann, and
Detwiler have never pitched 200 innings in a season and Zimmermann is the only
one of the three to have made it through a full season. Newly acquired Dan
Haren is coming off of back and hip injuries, and while his velocity is up
early in Spring, a body part once injured becomes prone to re-injury. The
bullpen looks a little more stable, but that is where the Nationals suffered
their biggest pitching injury last season when Drew Storen went down in Spring
Training. Rafael Soriano was the Nats biggest signing of the off-season and the
Nats are expecting him to anchor the back end of their bullpen, but he has
missed time in two of the last six seasons.    

The only thing that is certain with
injuries is that they do happen, and in some areas the Nats are uniquely
qualified to handle them. In years past the Spring Training performances of
Zach Walters, Anthony Rendon, and Corey Brown would be unreasonably
exciting to Nats fans as those guys could be good pieces. Now, they are injury
replacements. There is a chance, a good chance, that all of them could have a
huge impact on the 2013 season. Think about it this way. If Danny Espinosa’s
shoulder does act up the Nats slide Steve Lombardozzi into the starting line-up
and Zach Walters is called up to replace Lombardozzi. It is a drop off, but not
nearly the drop most other teams would suffer. If Werth does end up back on the
DL the Nats have Roger Bernadina, Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi, and Corey
Brown ready to platoon and shuffle in and out of the line-up much as they did
in 2012. If Ryan Zimmerman’s shoulder isn’t fully healed then Anthony Rendon
could hit the majors sooner than expected.

The Nats depth is part of the reason
they are expected to do well. The one place they lack depth is in the starting
rotation, but with Strasburg, Gio, Zimmermann, Detwiler, and Haren the only
need for depth is in case of emergency. Waiting to fill that spot are the
uninspiring names of Yunesky Maya, Ross Ohlendorf, and Chris Young, and as none
of them are on the 40 man roster they can only be injury replacements. A
pitching injury still isn’t the end of the world. If the Nats lose Detwiler or
Haren then they find themselves searching for a fifth starter, a circumstance
familiar to many contending clubs. As long as the injury happens before July 31
baseball has a mechanism that helps teams to improve mid-season, and if it is
after the trade deadline then perhaps Nathan Karns or someone else will be
ready for their debut. Now if the Nats suffer an injury to Strasburg, Gio, or Zimmermann
they will recover as well as any other team that loses one of their top
starters. Which is to say, they won’t, and can’t.    

Injuries are the Nats biggest weakness,
but they are everyone’s biggest weakness. Injuries are going to happen. They will
happen to every team and they will strike without warning or malice. To pretend
that luck has nothing to do with winning a championship is to miss the point.
There isn’t much difference in talent between the rosters of the Giants, Reds,
Braves, and Nationals. Of those four contenders the team most likely to
represent the NL in the World Series is whichever one is the healthiest, and
that is something that cannot be measured or predicted. Injuries are the
weakness of everyone, but maybe in the end the Nationals depth will save them.
 

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4 comments

  1. I am less optimistic that he nats could recover from a SP injury, just looking at last year with Lannan’s performance it is key to have 1-2 guys in your minor league system who could (and probably should) be a #4-5 starter if they were on a lesser team’s roster. You are still obviously going to have a huge dropoff, but the nats have less of a pillow this year than in ’12.

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  2. Also, clearly the Nats dont’ have an "injury" weakness, they may or may not have a higer succeptability to injury than their rivals (those that don’t start with a P anyway).

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  3. If Haren or Detwiler get hurt they can be replaced by Masterson of Volquez, but if Strasburg, Gio, or Zimmermann get hurt they can’t be replaced unless the Phillies will trade Roy Halladay in the division. I also think Lannan was a more unique situation than you’re giving it credit for.

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    1. I’m not so sure, watching Brad Peacock pitch for the Astros the other day I was thinking (even as he blew up) that he’d make a much better 6/7th starter than Maya or whoever else Rizzo can keep stashed in Syracuse.

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