The Nationals’ Covid-19 outbreak exposes their lack of depth

WEST PALM BEACH, FL; Josh Bell batting; Photo by Tom Sileo for TalkNats

Baseball is finally back! After having their opening series postponed due to a Coronavirus outbreak, the Washington Nationals wrapped up their trip to LA today and did not avoid a sweep. Outside of Opening Day, the Nationals’ season has been disappointing to say the least. Obviously it’s too early for overreactions, but the last 5 games do highlight an important flaw in their roster. The Nationals have weak depth on the team, and it’s killing them.

Earlier this week, nine players were put on the 10-day DL as a result of contracting the Coronavirus or being in close contact with someone who did. Of those nine players, eight were supposed to be starters for the Nats. As a result the team was forced to call up a myriad of AAA guys and sign a Free Agent catcher in Jonathan Lucroy.

Since then the Nationals have lost 5 out of 6 of their games. These losses can be directly attributed to by the Nationals’ lack of depth. Game 2 was lost because Erick Fedde, the team’s 6th starter, allowed 6 runs in 2 innings. Game 3 was lost because Tanner Rainey had to pitch in the final inning, instead of setup man Daniel Hudson who is once again the Closer. Game 4 was lost because Luis Avilan allowed a solo shot to Justin Turner. Avilan was set to make the opening day roster regardless, but in situations such as these you would typically go for someone higher up in the Bullpen order. Had Brad Hand been healthy Avilan would not have seen Turner in a tie ball game. Game 5 was lost in no small part to Patrick Corbin’s return.

After being sidelined for a week, Corbin returned to face the best team in baseball. It could be argued it was only because of the team’s lack of depth that he pitched at all yesterday. Pitching is not the only shortcoming, Game 5 and subsequently Games 4 and 3, were lost because the Nationals have only 4 players who are hitting the ball with any type of consistency. This is not 2008, Ryan Zimmerman is the team’s batting leader and playing daily.

The Nationals’ lack of depth is sad but not shocking when two of the five bench players named before the COVID outbreak had both Hernan Perez and Jordy Mercer. The last time Perez had an OBP over .300 was 2016. The team cleaned house to acquire the pieces for the 2019 World Series run, leaving the farm system bare and desolate. We have 1 prospect in the top 100 in MLB, Cade Cavalli at No. 92 is very lonely. None of the team’s top 10 prospects have made their debut higher than single-A so far.

Contrary to the MLB Nats, the MiLB Nats are very young. Short of trading everyone to obtain prospects, the lack of sufficient depth is just something the team will have to live with for a few years. But I have a feeling when these prospects are in AAA it’ll be very exciting for Nats fans. Stephen Strasburg broke records for attendance at his minor league games, the same could happen for Cavalli, Rutledge, or Antuna. These players are still developing, but there’s a reason they’re ranked higher than the guys in AA or AAA. It’s because they have the most potential, the most promise to be great.

So yes, the Nats have a lack of depth, it’s disappointing. But I’m not willing to call the season after 6 games and two series. The 2021 Nats look similar to the 2020 Nats, in that Starlin Castro, Trea Turner and Juan Soto, (now with Zimmerman and Lucroy) are all of the key hitting production.

Mike Rizzo’s fix for this was getting Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber, who should hopefully return soon. Veteran Jon Lester will come back as well, providing consistent starts and Brad Had returned today to the bullpen. I’ve said and continue to maintain that the Nats could be great this year, all the pieces just need to fall into place. At the moment a lot of the pieces are sitting at home, waiting for clearance to return. But when they do come back, you can be sure the Nats won’t still be dwelling on their lack of depth, rather they’ll be going full speed ahead to get the pennant. Because they, like all of us, know bumpy roads do indeed lead to beautiful places. And this is a very bumpy road.

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