April Showers bring May Powers! #Nats

Dusty Baker and Joe Maddon, who guide two of the best teams in the NL, have the respect of their players. Getty Images

The calendar turned today to May 1st and warmer weather should be on its way. April featured cold weather and it was still a fantastic month for the Washington Nationals who stand today with the best record in the Major Leagues at 17-8.  This is a .680 winning percentage.  Were that pace to continue for the entire season the team would win 110 games. The Nationals just set records for the month of April with 170 runs scored, and Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper each set Nationals records with Harper breaking the MLB record with 32 runs scored in the month of April. 

The Cubs were on blistering pace last year on their way to winning 103 games. The Cubs also lost Kyle Schwarber for the regular season last April to a knee injury when he tore his ACL and LCL. We will address this later. The similarities show that a great team can overcome a key injury. The Cubs were able to stay very healthy and finish the 2016 season with all key players except Schwarber. One key to their success last year was Kyle Hendrick’s surprise season where he sported a league best 2.13 ERA. Besides losing Schwarber, the Cubs had to overcome an abysmal offensive season from their big free agent acquisition, Jason Heyward, who batted .230 with a .631 OPS.

What all that shows is that you can overcome a major injury and you can carry a struggling player if he is a positive in other ways. Joe Maddon’s philosophy even before Heyward’s issues became a reality was simple:

“If you aren’t hitting, what are you going to do to help your team win,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said in the off-season before the 2016 season.

Heyward finished with a +1.5 bWAR because he had a +1.3 defensive WAR plus his baserunning. He was contributing in other ways for his team.

This could bode well for the Nats if times ever get tough by remembering what Maddon said. The Cubs had no negative WAR players last season starting for them. Maddon also was willing to sit Heyward during certain matchups which the Cubs manager said was one of the toughest decisions he ever had to make.

Managing is more than just in-game strategy. It is line-up construction and putting your players in the best situations to succeed. Team wins count more than individual accomplishments. Managing is making sure players are healthy when they are in the line-up. Maddon last year didn’t have one pitcher reach 200 innings in the regular season, and he did that with purpose to make sure his starters were fresh for the post-season.

What you learn from Bruce Bochy putting Tim Lincecum into the bullpen or leaving Barry Zito off the post-season roster seems mercenary, but Bochy doesn’t care what you think. He would be happy to show you his 3 World Series rings and his Hall of Fame plaque after he retires, however.

You could also learn plenty from Terry Collins who seems to get more from less.  There are limits, however. Sometimes when you try to squeeze another drop of water from a dried out cactus it just does not produce.  A sharp cactus needle can seriously hurt you as TC has learned repeatedly. Maybe part of Collins problems are self-inflicted, but he will once again play short-handed.

Byron Kerr of MASN Sports wrote this on Saturday: “Maybe the best exchange of the pregame session with Baker came when Nationals radio play-by-play announcer Charlie Slowes asked him about possibly moving Bryce Harper to center field with Eaton out the lineup.”

Baker: “No man. you leave Bryce alone and fill in the blanks elsewhere. I don’t know where you come up with that one, Charlie.”

Slowes: “It was asked to me.”

Baker: “Well, you tell them they’re crazy.”

Slowes: “They asked me if Trea (Turner) would go to center, too.”

Baker: “You tell them, leave my team alone.”

Charlie Slowes probably should have kept the Bryce Harper idea to himself as that ship has sailed, but the Trea Turner idea should be in play down the road -if- the Michael Taylor experiment does not work. Maybe it is back to looking at players like Jonathan Villar, Zack Cozart, Lorenzo Cain or even getting creative with Wilmer Difo. Maybe it is looking at Andrew Stevenson to see if he can take the spot.

There will be time to figure all of that out as the Nationals have days, weeks, and 2-to-3 months for experimentation. There is more than one way to figure it out just like the Nationals did in 2016 when they left Espinosa at shortstop and put Trea Turner in centerfield, but let’s face it, if the Nationals got Villar, Cozart or Charlie Blackmon last year, it could have been the Nats hoisting the hardware in October even though Ramos was lost for the season. But we will never know.

Stay flexible and think outside the box Dusty. Yes, we can understand your frustration at the time with Charlie Slowes because you already knew that Adam Eaton shredded his knee and no MRI was going to reverse what you already knew. The ridiculous press release that read knee strain gave false hope to those who did not realize that was just a reason to put Eaton on the DL and the 10-Day DL was all that was needed to allow for a roster move to add a player. Here is the press release:

Could Eaton make a miraculous return like Kyle Schwarber did last year? The analysts didn’t think so last April that Schwarber would play again in 2016, but he did. Days and weeks will make a difference for a medical miracle for Eaton.

We had a long discussion with Dr. A. Brion Gardner who is an orthopedic surgeon for the D.C. regionally based group of  The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics, and Dr. Gardner admits it would take a miracle for Adam Eaton to return in 5 months.

“The MCL will heal on its own in 6-12 weeks,” Dr. Gardner said. “It takes at least 5 months for the ACL to heal. At 5 months is the earliest I would let any patient return to unrestricted activity. But that doesn’t mean that on that day they would go out and play a Major League game.”

What would happen if Adam Eaton felt like he was ready 5 months and a 1 week from now?

“You would definitely risk further injury going back too soon, “ Dr. Gardner said. “It also takes 5-6 months for the quadriceps muscle control and hamstring control to return. The lack of peak neuromuscular control is what puts an athlete at risk for re-injury by returning too soon.”

Never say never to an athlete who has the determination of a warrior like Adam Eaton. Time will tell, and the first step is having a successful surgery. The Nationals must plan the remainder of the season without him.

We are in May now. There is no window closing. There is no time to panic. We have to see how this new line-up works together. Nobody expects that Ryan Zimmerman will bat .420 into September because no player has since 1924 when Rogers Hornsby hit .424. If you wanted to be optimistic about these 2017 Nationals, it would be the play of Zimmerman. Adam Eaton’s season finished with a glimpse of how great he was batting . 297 with an incredible .393 on-base percentage and a very good .854 OPS for a lead-off man and a scorching .500 with RISP. Yes, Adam Eaton will be missed.

Anthony Rendon, who slumped most of April and was slashing .226/.316/.250/.566 after Saturday’s game, showed us he can pick up the slack after the injury to Eaton on Friday. Rendon put up 3 weeks worth of production in one game as he drove in 10 runs yesterday!

Maybe, just maybe, between Trea Turner, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon, Matt Wieters, and one more player, whether that is Michael Taylor or another.  The Nats will play the next 137 games and hope to be as productive as they were for the first 25 games.

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