There are so many sports clichés that we could use at a time like this, but the reality of the situation is the sum of all fears were reached yesterday. The Washington Nationals lost their two best position players to injuries this week, and most of the original depth behind them are injured. It got so dire that catcher Alex Avila had to play second base for the first time in his career.
Faced with adversity, they had last night’s game in-hand while Max Scherzer was controlling the mound. As soon as he exited, the floodgates opened and the Dodgers scored 9 runs in that following inning. It was insult to injury.
There were flashbacks of Game 3 of the 2017 NLDS when Scherzer exited with the lead and the ball was given to a soft-tossing lefty. Last night, manager Dave Martinez did not have the “Law Firm” all rested and ready, but it still felt eerily similar. On that day in 2017, Martinez was in the opposite dugout, probably knowing what was going to happen. But players still have a job to do, and things last night unraveled quicker than a cheap suit.
Per the pre-season blueprint, Martinez would have turned the game over to Will Harris, Kyle Finnegan, Tanner Rainey or Daniel Hudson to bridge this game to Brad Hand to close it out. Guess what, all of those set-up relievers are on the injured list. His choices were few last night, but the Nats’ manager chose the soft tossing lefty to face the clutch righty to start the inning and it felt like a recipe for disaster — and it was.
The season started with scratching nine players due to COVID from the Opening Day roster. A cruel way to begin the 2021 campaign. Even without star pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, except for 21 2/3 innings this season, the Nats have found a way to survive with a starting rotation that currently includes Paolo Espino who has to face future Hall-of-Famer Clayton Kershaw tonight on national TV. At one point the rotation had both Strasburg and Scherzer on the IL. A starting rotation of Espino, Jefry Rodriguez, Joe Ross, Jon Lester, and Patrick Corbin is what Martinez had at one point.
This team clawed back this week to second place and 2.0 games from 1st place in the NL East — then the team’s best player, Trea Turner, jammed one of his fingers, and yesterday lost the hottest hitter in baseball, Kyle Schwarber, to a hamstring injury. Schwarber was just named NL Player of the Month yesterday and in the same game while legging out a single, Schwarbs blew out a tire.
We still do not know the full extent of most of these injuries, but survival during the team’s toughest point of their schedule did not count on this adversity. Without Turner, the team has dropped two-in-a-row. With Schwarber and Turner batting 1-2 in the order, they were every team’s nightmare with Soto lurking in the 3-hole and a hot Josh Bell batting after them and a resurgent Starlin Castro after him. This lineup was clicking. Without their 1-2 punch, who knows?
During the Nats 14-3 hot streak leading up to this Dodgers series, the team was averaging 6.14 runs scored in those wins. They were finally clicking on all cylinders on offense.
Replacing Turner last night with Humberto Arteaga felt like a cruel joke when we broke the news on Twitter yesterday afternoon. Arteaga is a 27 year old with an MLB lifetime slash of .192/ .250 /.224/ .474 — Turner had more home runs and steals in his last game than Arteaga has in his entire career.
“It’s frustrating,” Scherzer said. “I don’t feel like we have an injury bug. We have an injury rat running around the clubhouse. It feels like it’s just biting everybody at this point in time. We’re in a critical stretch here, and we’re having guys drop like flies right now.”
The Nats could do something bold here and make some impact trades now, and if it doesn’t work-out, you could still sell-off at the end of the month. While that is unconventional thinking, it could be better than doing nothing. You just don’t want to watch what this team just built over the last three weeks just spiral away. You can bet that general manager Mike Rizzo and his staff are hard at work.
“It’s been a tough few days, but we’ll get through it,” Martinez said. “I told the guys today we’re going to stay positive. We’re going to fight.”
Staying positive is what people with the best character do in the face of adversity, and this team must pull together because the best of the best can pick themselves off of the canvas and find a way to keep fighting.