Here is t he Washington Nationals ’ reality at the moment: Jayson Werth and Denard Span were introduced to a sellout crowd on a glorious opening day at Nationals Park — huge cheers for both — then reported to the bench, where they watched. They are the only two Nationals who must be at the yard Tuesday, because they are coming back from injuries and they need to get their work in while the rest of the team is off. Anthony Rendon is in Florida, still rehabbing his mysteriously ailing knee.
Their places in the Nationals’ order a year ago: first (Span), second (Rendon) and third (Werth). Their ranks in WAR (wins over replacement), according to FanGraphs: first (Rendon), second (Werth) and third (Span). Werth led the team in on-base-plus-slugging percentage; Rendon was second. And it was Span who set a team record for hits.
So what unfolded Monday afternoon may have been a preview of what’s immediately ahead, a 3-1 loss to the New York Mets in which new right-hander Max Scherzer couldn’t afford a single mistake, because the Nationals could not hit. Bryce Harper homered and singled. Everyone else: 1 for 27.
“Of course you want your team together,” said shortstop Ian Desmond, whose two errors led to all the Mets’ runs. “You want your guys.”
Their guys, right now, aren’t available, and it colored everything Monday. This was an occasion to think about the Nationals’ past — not play like it. It could seem silly to reflect on a decade, particularly in baseball, a sport in which franchises cherish histories that date back more than a century. The Mets were born in 1962. In the landscape of their sport, they’re babies. Yet they have 40-something years on the Nats.
Still, 10 years is 10 years, and so much has happened since Washington’s 33-year baseball drought ended that it’s worth casting what occurred Monday — in a packed ballpark, home to the World Series favorites — against what it took to get there.
The warm feelings of baseball’s return to Washington — a moment frozen from April 14, 2005, when George W. Bush threw out the first pitch to Brian Schneider, when Livan Hernandez took a shutout to the ninth, when Vinny Castilla might have hit for the cycle had he not been plunked by a Lance Cormier pitch in the eighth — covers up all the dreck. And there was so much of it, from those front-office-in-the-trailers-at-RFK Stadium days in 2005 to the who’s-this-guy-on-the-mound days of . . . well, pick a season.
Asking someone to see the scene Monday — fan base decked out in red, cornerstone Ryan Zimmerman saying, “We’re going to be good for a long time,” $210 million pitcher on the mound — would have been asking to see through a steel wall. Get out your X-ray glasses. Still couldn’t happen.
“I remember that 10-day period between when we were awarded the team and our first home game, and we did our best to try to clean the place,” said Mark Lerner, one of the team’s principal owners, remembering back to July 2006. Think lipstick and pig.
“That was an interesting 10 days,” Lerner said. “We were picking up trash that I think had been there for 30 years. But it was great. We had a red carpet down. We edged the [flower] beds. We gave the place a power wash. It looked a little bit better. People could tell somebody tried.”
The trying has long since passed, and new assumptions about how the franchise will perform have replaced it. Much is expected of this team, both in this town and across the country. And then Monday, we get . . . this?
“Anytime you’re missing your main guys — 1, 2 and 3 hitters,” Manager Matt Williams said, “you want to take advantage of our opportunities.”
Against Mets right-hander Bartolo Colon, who is listed at age 41 but has not yet been subjected to carbon dating, the Nationals hit with runners on base in exactly two innings, the first and sixth. In those at-bats, they went 0 for 5 with three strikeouts and a walk. How are they not going to be involved in a slew of these 3-1 or 2-1 or 3-2 games? Their starting pitching should dictate it, sure. But their lineup will likely dictate it, too.
“If we score four runs,” Harper said, “we’ll be okay.”
Sure. Just get to four. After Michael A. Taylor’s single to lead off the game and an ensuing error, Colon sat down nine straight Nationals. Harper homered, and Colon sat down eight more in a row. Welcome to April, with this lineup. It won’t be every night. But it could make fans breathlessly check for updates on Werth (expected back within the week following offseason shoulder surgery) and Span (progressing better than expected from abdominal surgery).
“Of course we’re going to miss Werth and Span,” Harper said. “Those are two guys we need in the lineup.”
Rendon’s a throwaway? Harper realized his omission. “Haven’t seen him in a month,” he said.
So for now, the regular lineup includes Dan Uggla (.171 average in 2013-14) at second base, Tyler Moore (career .239 hitter over 449 major league plate appearances) in left and the promising Taylor (47 career plate appearances, including four Monday) leading off and playing center.
“We’ve had great fill-ins in the past,” Desmond said. “Not even fill-ins. We’ve had guys step in and play great.”
That is the expectation, even if it can’t be a reality. Seven or eight years ago, the Nationals fielded lineups that looked worse than the one that took the field Monday. Nook Logan, Brandon Watson, an end-of-his-career Paul Lo Duca, Elijah Dukes, Lastings Milledge — they all appeared on opening days gone by, replacement-level players as everyday guys.
Those groups, though, weren’t met with the anticipation of this one. For Monday, this conversation seemed pertinent, even central. If Werth is back by next week in Boston, if Span’s only two weeks away, if Rendon’s sprained knee heals as it should, maybe the issue will fizzle quickly.
But what we’re supposed to be thinking about as the return of baseball to the District reaches its 10-year anniversary is how far the Nationals have come. Instead, for the next week or three or more, we could be distracted by a daily thirst for offense and a lineup that looks more like 2005 than 2015.