More than the usual amount of optimism surrounds the Washington Nationals this season. It’s like pollen. A Metro ride to the ballpark is a cacophony of sneezing and coughing — Beethoven’s lesser-known Symphony for Snot and Phlegm — and once inside, all that misery is replaced by the euphoria of a season still filled with promise.
In years past, any euphoria surrounding the Nats could be largely attributed to allergy medication, and disregarded accordingly. These days, however, the Nats have a rotation of dangerous young arms, a deep bullpen that seems to have an antidote for whatever ill the opponent can send to the plate, and a lineup that has . . . improved. Let’s call it improved. They are alone atop the NL East standings, and granted it is barely more than a week into the season, but a 6-2 start through Friday night is nothing to sneeze at, allergies or not.
The Post Sports Live crew debates which current injured National, outfielder Michael Morse or closer Drew Storen, is more important for the team's long term success.
However, Nats fans may need to switch to Goody’s headache powders or Tums, because whether you anticipate a World Series or a .500 finish for this team, or something in between, you’ll agree that the one thing that could derail your dream is injuries.
That’s why seeing closer Drew Storen (43 saves last season) in a sling at Thursday’s home opener was sobering to many. Storen underwent surgery to remove a bone chip from his elbow, a 30-minute procedure that could have him sidelined until after the all-star break. Considering the Nats had feared he was headed toward a Tommy John procedure, that’s what passes as good news in Natstown. (It was beginning to seem like the Nats had one of those punch cards: “Buy nine season-ending elbow ligament replacement surgeries and the 10th is free!”)
Then came the second in the 1-2 punch of bad news: Michael Morse, who had been battling an injured lat since spring training, is on the shelf for at least six weeks.
Just like that, Washington’s vulnerability was exposed. This did not have the degree of difficulty of, say, discovering the thermal exhaust port in the Death Star. But for a team trying to slowly build themselves into a playoff contender, depth at every position is a key piece of the puzzle. They aren’t there yet.
Such was the concern at Nats Park before Thursday’s pregame news conference with Manager Davey Johnson: The assembled media were told to hold all injury questions for GM Mike Rizzo. Of course, telling the assembled media what to do is akin to telling a room full of cats to go to their assigned cages, pronto. So Johnson was peppered with questions ranging from Morse’s injury to Storen’s injury to Chien-Ming Wang’s injury to Rick Ankiel’s injury to Michal Neuvirth’s injury. (Okay, that last one isn’t true.)
The loss of Storen would seem to be less devastating than that of Morse, because the injury was not as severe as anticipated and because the one place the Nats do have depth is the bullpen. In the first seven games of the season, the Nats have replaced Storen with a closer committee of Phillies veteran Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez. On paper it looked brilliant. On the field it’s not quite there yet.