With the season essentially over on Monday, after the Nationals were eliminated from playoff contention, it’s only natural to think back on the season and wonder “what if.” There are a handful of games the Nationals were close to winning and blew. But other questions creep into one’s mind. Many factors helped doom the Nationals’ season, but injuries, lack of production, lack of depth, stress under pressure and perhaps front office patience were chief among them.
What if Bryce Harper hadn’t hit the wall in Atlanta in late April and smashed into the fence in Los Angeles in May? The Nationals are 60-52 in games started by Harper and 24-23 in games in which he didn’t. When Harper started, the Nationals were only at an 87-win pace, perhaps because the outfielder was still playing hurt.
What if Jayson Werth had never dealt with his career-first hamstring strain, an injury aggravated by illness and dehydration? The Nationals are 69-57 in games started by Werth, an 89-win pace, and 15-18 in games in which he didn’t. The batting average of the fill-ins in right field during his absence was .210.
What if Wilson Ramos could have avoided his two hamstring strains, or perhaps at least the second, and longest, setback? The Nationals are 46-29 in games started by Ramos, a 99-win pace, and only 38-46 in games in which he didn’t. In 76 games, Ramos has driven in 56 runs and pitchers posted a 3.30 ERA with him behind the plate. Kurt Suzuki, on the other hand, drove in a 25 runs in 79 games and posted a 3.95 catcher’s ERA.
What if Ramos, Werth and Harper had all played together more often? They have all been in the same lineup only 54 times in 159 games, so just a third of the season. The Nationals record in those games: 33-21, a 99-win pace. In the other games: 51-54.
What if the Nationals hadn’t exercised so much patience with struggling players like Danny Espinosa, Tyler Moore, Roger Bernadina, Chad Tracy, Zach Duke, Drew Storen, Ryan Mattheus and Henry Rodriguez? The positions players combined to post a -3 WAR and pitchers posted a -2.1 WAR.
What if Dan Haren had pitched more like he did in the second half? Before his summer stint on the disabled list, Haren punched up a 6.15 ERA through his first 15 starts. In his 14 starts since, he has a 3.62 ERA.
What if Ross Detwiler hadn’t missed nearly four months of the season? The silver lining to his oblique and back injuries has been the production and discovery of Ross Ohlendorf, Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark. What if Stephen Strasburg had taken the next step in his development and become an 200-inning workhorse? What if Gio Gonzalez hadn’t suffered under a cloud because of the Biogenesis investigation and from his own inconsistency?
What if the Nationals had re-signed Tom Gorzelanny, or at least, not begun the season with one left-hander in the bullpen and not taken until mid-June to overhaul the relief corps?
What if Rafael Soriano hadn’t blown a career-high six saves and Storen hadn’t blown five games himself?
What if Adam LaRoche had simply matched career averages and not struggled with his ADD medicine and subsequent weight loss? Instead of hitting .237/.332/.403 and 20 homers and 62 RBI, his career averages of .268/.338/.482 and 22 homers and 76 RBI would have provided a bigger boost to the lineup, but maybe not much more.
What if the bench, save for Steve Lombardozzi’s second half, had been more productive?
What if Rick Schu had replaced Rick Eckstein sooner? Under, Eckstein the Nationals scored 3.7 runs per game. Under Schu, the Nationals are scoring 4.6 runs per game. Maybe that’s simply a product of hitters snapping out of their slow starts, but Schu certainly had an effect on production.
What if the surges of Denard Span and Ryan Zimmerman’s had come earlier in the season?
What if the Nationals had hit left-handed pitching? The Nationals have hit .237 against southpaws this season, the fifth worst mark in the majors. Or, what if the Nationals had hit better with runners in scoring position? A second-half offensive surge has improved the numbers, but the Nationals hit .244 in those situations, ranked 22nd in the majors.
What if the Nationals had played better against the Braves? The Braves beat the Nationals 13 of 19 meetings and outscored them 73-49. Eight of those 19 meetings were decided by one run, including three in extra innings. The Nationals went 2-6 in those one-run games against the Braves. But if the Nationals pitching, and hitting, hadn’t been so inconsistent and that record was reversed, maybe they would still be in playoff contention.
What if the Nationals had played better on the road? They went 37-41 away from Nationals Park. Or, what if the Nationals had played better against teams .500 or better? They went 22-40 against those teams.
FROM THE POST
The Nationals received a healthy reality check this season, writes Thomas Boswell.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL