Each of these ideas, in isolation, sounds sane or at least not totally nuts. But put them together and they come into focus: the different faces of panic.
The most important and irritating word in baseball is “wait.” Wait for the pitch to get to the plate before you swing. Wait for enough innings and games to mount up before you reach conclusions. Always look at long-term data for meaning and short-term data for noise.
But it’s so hard. And it’s just not fun. Last year, after 70 games, I extrapolated where the Nats staff might stand in history with its 2.95 ERA and such. “After you wrote that, we started getting whacked,” pitching coach Steve McCatty told me last week. “So, workin’ on another one like that?”
Yes, this one on the Nats’ offense tjhat’s obviously irredeemably awful.
If the Nats don’t repeat in the NL East or miss the playoffs, the offense will likely be the cause. The Nats created a domino effect when they traded for Span and switched Harper to left field, thus committing themselves to subtract either Morse or LaRoche. Deleting one power hitter from the lineup wasn’t an obvious danger to the whole cohesion of the offense — on paper. But then real baseball arrived.
As Werth, Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos went on the DL, as Espinosa and LaRoche spent weeks under .200, it became clear that the lineup lacked “length.” Span did his leadoff job, but the whole lineup behind him suddenly looked malnourished. Subs like Moore, Roger Bernadina, Chad Tracy and Lombardozzi (hitting a collective .181) seemed as overwhelmed by their opportunities as they were energized by them last year.
When the Nats are fairly healthy or when the center of their batting order is hot, they have enough offense. LaRoche has hit .380 in his last 13 games, Zimmerman .360 and Ian Desmond has 21 extra-base hits. Two days after failing to drill his silhouette through the Dodger Stadium scoreboard, Harper hit a 431-foot homer Wednesday. Werth will be back in a few days.
So the Nats may soon start raking. But the big picture still has a shadow on it. Every team has a scenario that haunts it. The Nats now know theirs: periods of offensive starvation when faced with just two or three injuries or slumps to their key two-through-six hitters.
By late last year, the Nats’ lineup had a margin for error and mutual reinforcement. Now, as soon as one player gets nicked and another goes 1 for 15, the spooky music starts playing. Can they scratch out three runs?
Soon, the Nats could be firing on all cylinders again, an impressive sight. But injuries and slumps never cease. The Nats spent the winter improving their pitching and outfield defense. But, by choice, they may have left themselves one big bat short of season-long offensive stability.
So save those crazy panic ideas. A couple may still come in handy.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/