- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2017

There was only one question in between games Sunday that was pertinent to the first game of a split day-night doubleheader. Outfielder Brian Goodwin was removed before the top of the ninth inning. Michael A. Taylor, who had been on the disabled list for a month, replaced Goodwin. Nationals manager Dusty Baker was asked why.

Baker sighed when asked about Goodwin’s removal. The early afternoon loss to the San Francisco Giants was secondary to the possibility of Washington’s third-string center fielder being injured. Baker wasn’t mad about the question. He was more shaking his head at the fact Goodwin needed to come out because of groin tightness the game after Bryce Harper had flipped into the air and onto the disabled list. Taylor was back in the major leagues to replace Harper, not Goodwin. Yet, out he ran for the ninth.

That’s how it has been this season for the Nationals. Their list of injured players is expansive and star laden: Jayson Werth, Adam Eaton, Trea Turner, Stephen Strasburg. A slew of backups and pitchers are on the disabled list, too. Despite the long list, the Nationals took a needed rest day Monday with a 14-game lead in the National League East. The gap is going to allow Harper more time to heal. Same with Strasburg, who could be back by the end of the week. Same for Turner and Werth.

“We’ve got some significant WAR on the disabled list right now,” general manager Mike Rizzo said Sunday.

That was also the situation in 2015, when the Nationals flopped as opposed to this season’s surge. What has been the difference?

Two years ago, Harper was healthy all season on his way to his first MVP award. The rest of the roster was battered by injuries. Those issues, in part, led to a season of mediocrity sandwiched between two division-winning years. The result, again in part, cost Matt Williams his job as manager. Williams went from the playoffs and a manager of the year award his first season to being fired the next.

The injury problems of 2015 began before spring training. Werth needed shoulder surgery in the offseason. Ryan Zimmerman was dancing around plantar fasciitis.

Once the work began, the injuries began to pile up. Denard Span had abdominal surgery in March, removing the Nationals’ leadoff hitter. Anthony Rendon made what seemed to be an innocuous dive for a ground ball at spring training in Viera, Florida. He bruised his knee. Then, that injury was moved up to a sprain. He didn’t get on a major-league field until June 4. He was back off it 20 days later. Rendon finished with just 311 at-bats that season. He had 286 before the All-Star break this season.

Werth debuted April 13 but only lasted until May 15. A wrist contusion put him on the disabled list until July 19. He played little more than Rendon. Werth finished with 331 at-bats. He has just 168 this season because of a left foot contusion and is unlikely to reach 331.

Strasburg, as is standard, missed time. He made just 23 starts. That was his lowest in any full season. The bullpen was damaged by the injuries to Craig Stammen, Sammy Solis and Aaron Barrett. The season ended with Jonathan Papelbon choking Harper in the dugout and an 83-79 record.

The web site mangameslost.com tracks WAR (wins above replacement) and games lost to injuries each season. According to the site, the Nationals, currently on pace to win 98 games, 15 more than 2015, have already lost more value to injuries this season than they did all of 2015.

In 2015, Washington lost 1.07 in WAR, which was 21st in the league. Through Aug. 12, before Harper was injured, the Nationals lost 3.69 in WAR, which was 12th in MLB. They are 15th in games lost this season and 12th in 10-day disabled list stints. They were 11th in total games injured in 2015.

Those numbers further illustrate how many unlikely hits the Nationals have made this season in supplementing their injured roster. Goodwin was on track for first-round bust status before producing an .811 OPS this season. Taylor put together an .826 OPS while replacing Eaton in center field before an oblique injury derailed him. That’s 172 points higher than last season.

Zimmerman assembling his best season since 2009 has been a massive benefit. He has 54 extra-base hits already this season. He had 41 in 2015. Combined with Rendon, the differences between their 2015 seasons and now, has kept the team afloat. Mix in Daniel Murphy’s bat, plus the unlikely contributions from Goodwin, Taylor and Wilmer Difo, and the reason Washington remained above water this season unlike 2015 is clear. All of which makes Baker hopeful that the benefits of surviving — even thriving — without a bevy of stars will arrive in the fall along with their return.

“Whoever we put out there, we expect them to give their best and they have. Werth will be here slowly but surely. We got Michael back [Sunday]. Hopefully, nothing else happens. We hope and expect to get Werth and Turner back in a couple weeks. We’re unsure about Koda Glover. He’s progressing. It would be like getting a whole new, fresh team down the stretch if things go right.

“I just believe in the bottom of my heart, some of this is already written. That some of these guys are going to show up like the cavalry, right on time, down the stretch drive and be a lot fresher hopefully than the teams that we will be playing once the postseason starts. That’s big. Miles on your body. You know, you don’t get them back. Once you’re tired at the end of the season, everybody’s tired. I’m hoping that we will be fresher than most because the time that they missed and because injuries are never pleasant, but you can find a silver lining in them being back fresh. It’s just a matter of them coming back in time to regain your sharpness.”

He will gladly take questions should that happen.

 

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