As Spring Training draws to a close the worst case scenario in many people's minds is starting to unfold. In 2013 the Washington Nationals came into the season hyped to the moon and were expected to be one of the best teams in the history of baseball. Concurrent injuries and a sub-replacement level bench derailed those expectations and led to a disappointing season. The Nationals again find themselves victims to multiple injuries to star players and it has many wondering if it will be 2013 all over again.
But this isn't 2013 and the Nationals injuries have all started to happen before the games count. Some players are going to miss time during the regular season, but no one is thought to be out much past mid-May at this point, the Nats 2015 bench looks to be much better than 2013, and there is no team in the division close to the talent of the 2013 Braves.
The first injury that hit the Nats was a surprise announcement that Jayson Werth needed shoulder surgery. The timetable at the time of the surgery made it sound like Werth was a definite to miss Opening Day, but low and behold Jayson Werth is playing in Spring Training B games with an entire week of games left and the best way to prepare to play in a baseball game is by playing in baseball games. At this point it is more doubtful that Werth misses Opening Day than that he makes it, but many still won't believe it until they see it happen. The thing with the first couple weeks of the season is no position player has played a full nine inning game and so even a player with as late a start on Spring Training as Werth will be in pretty much the same place as the entire rest of the league. If for some reason Werth still isn't ready on Opening Day it looks like the start would go to Tyler Moore, Clint Robinson, or Tony Gwynn Jr. and it doesn't matter which one. Werth would be out for so short a period of time that even if they played at their absolute worst they couldn't do any harm to the Nationals season just like Greg Dobbs did no harm to the 2014 season.
Slightly more severe than Werth's injury is Anthony Rendon, but it could also be less severe. When last Matt Williams spoke on the matter he said that Rendon could feel fine tomorrow or need to miss four days. With the fact that DL stints can be made retroactive 10 days at the start of the season four games is the exact number Rendon would miss with the minimum DL trip. The issue with Rendon is the Nats thought it was only going to be a week at the most and then it was more and they sent him back for a second MRI. That MRI showed that Rendon is healing but not at the rate the Nats expected. The problem with trying to place a timetable on injuries is every person heals differently and while the average athlete would need a week or two to recover from this a slow healing athlete could need three to four weeks. Rendon might just be a slow healer and even with that Matt Williams only said this could put Opening Day in jeopardy. Everyone took that as meaning Rendon is definitely missing Opening Day, but could be in jeopardy is the equivalent of questionable which means Tom Brady is definitely starting. If Rendon can't start then it's going to be Ian Stewart, Danny Espinosa, or some other near replacement level player that will again play in too few games to matter.
Denard Span is the Nats position player with the longest timetable for a return. Three weeks ago when he had a surprise surgery the doctors said four to six weeks until Span can begin baseball activities. Hopefully by that they didn't mean swinging a bat because Span is reportedly already doing that. I'd still guess that Span is three weeks away from beginning any real rehab work which puts us two weeks into the season and then he'll need a week to get ready for a rehab assignment and then a week on a rehab assignment putting him back sometime towards the beginning of May. While Span's injury has the longest time frame for recovery it is the least troubling because Michael Taylor is going to take his spot and while some want to take a wait and see approach I'm bullish on Taylor. There are very few centerfielders with his skill set and the worst of them last season was Marcel Ozuna who is still a very fine player. This isn't Kory Casto or Justin Maxwell. Michael Taylor is an honest to God top 50 prospect and one of the best outfield prospects in the entire game of baseball. In a different scenario Nationals fans would be counting down 21 days for Taylor to be called up from Syracuse. Instead he's going to be starting for an injured Denard Span and count me among those who believe he won't just start the season in centerfield but finish it as well.
The Nats have injuries. They won't see the projected line-up start on Opening Day, but who thought this team was going to make it through the season without any injuries? Knowing that Werth and Rendon are going to be back mid-April at worst and Span late May at worst means that the Nationals aren't going to be dealing with these injuries for long. The 2014 Nationals had their projected line-up on the field for 17 games last season. That is a ridiculous amount. If the Nationals pitching staff can do what is expected of them the Nationals could end up missing Span, Werth, and Rendon for two weeks, score a sub-par 3.3 runs a game and still come out with a winning record. The game isn't won by scoring a ton of runs. It is won by allowing fewer runs than you score and the Nationals have a pitching staff that can carry the load while the position players get healthy.