March 28, 2012; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; A general view of a Washington Nationals catchers mask and helmet in the bullpen before a spring training game against the New York Mets at Digital Domain Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE
The Nationals are going to have to make up for the loss of Michael Morse, Drew Storen and Chien-Ming Wang to start the season.
On Thursday night, I headed out to Durty Nelly's Pub in Charlottesville, Virginia. About once every week I try to make it out to a watering hole as a reward to myself for pulling Daddy duty, writing duty and just generally being a normal member of society. Thursday night I was going to shed my skin, howl at the moon and transform into a creature resembling Jayson Werth. Awwwrrooooo! Stay off the moors as I look for a big dish of beef chow-mein.
I get in there, grab a seat at the bar (closest to where the pretty waitress works) and call for the bartender to get me a pint of Pabst Blue Ribbon, my favorite. The look on the bartender drops as she informs me the Pabst has been eighty-sixed. It was one of those rare times the PBR tap was dry at the place. This fact nearly ruined my night. I had to settle for a Bud Light, which was heartbreaking to me. If I was drinking from one of those name tag bottles and I had a pen, I would have written "crap" or "watered down frog piss" on the bottle. I drearily sipped from the glass as the pretty waitress' shift ended and I got stuck in a conversation about cheap cat food with a guy who strangely looked exactly like The Beast from Kung Fu Hustle.
The night was saved, however. Someone put on some Ted Nugent and I love the music of The Nuge. It makes me want to ride buffaloes. So I might have lost one battle on the tap, but I won another that ultimately sent me rocking all the way home. In some twisted way, I see the Washington Nationals regular season starting the same way as my experience at the pub and possibly ending the same way.
The Nationals have four more Spring Training battles to be fought in Florida, and then a quick stop in Washington for an exhibition against the Boston Red Sox before they open the season against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on April 5th. We can look back on their 2012 Grapefruit League campaign and safely say that it was perhaps the most boring and yet the most exciting Spring Training since the team landed in Washington in 2005. It was boring in the sense that when it started, for the first time, the Nats had few roster spots open for debate. But it was exciting for the very same reason, and on top of it the Nats put together perhaps the best potential rotation in franchise history.
But as the Spring season fades into the regular season that excitement is slightly tempered by the fact that not all the required pieces of the Nationals' potentially potent roster will be with them in Chicago to start the season. Slugger Michael Morse and closer Drew Storen will be starting the season on the disabled list, as will starter Chien-Ming Wang, who was tagged as the Nationals' likely fifth starter. The outfield is still a subject of uncertainty after the failure to acquire a true center fielder in the off season. Werth is really the only guaranteed outfield option for the Nats, while the rest of the outfield will be a platoon or an outfielder-of-the-week sort of thing. Just a week ago, first baseman Xavier Nady was headed to the minor leagues, but this week he suddenly has the potential to make the Opening Day roster, which says a lot about the faith the Nats have in Adam LaRoche and whether he can maintain his health and/or a decent batting average.
A team depending on Nady and guys like Mark DeRosa, Roger Bernadina and John Lannan is going to struggle. It is what happens when a team doesn't acquire much depth and their tap runs dry. It doesn't mean the team won't be successful, but it is going to take some time for manager Davey Johnson to get this team online and in a groove. But the Nats' Nuge is coming. Morse and Storen will eventually be back, as well as Wang. General Manager Mike Rizzo is going to either make some moves to shore up the outfield situation or he will just wait until mega prospect Bryce Harper is called up later in the year. Personally, I'd like to see a little of both. First base will be a constant nag for the Nats this season unless some sort of move is made, but Chris Marrero is scheduled to return by the All-Star Break, so there is some bit of cavalry coming.
To sum it all up, the Opening Day Nationals we are going to get are not the Opening Day Nationals we want. For the first part of the season we are going to have to settle on the Nadys and Lannans. We aren't going to see the true 2012 Washington Nationals until a little later in the season. We can only hope that until that team arrives, the Nationals can still be in the thick of it so when the Cat Scratch Fever hits they can forget their Bud Light start of the season and rock and roll their way deep into a potentially epic run.