After Bryce Harper's injury last night, Nationals fans held their collective breath. Harper is the best player on the team and one of the best in the league, and any serious injury to him would spell trouble for Washington over the rest of the year. Thankfully for the Nationals, Harper avoided serious injury, and should be able to avoid a DL stint. But after this incident and one in Atlanta two weeks ago when Harper collided with the right field scorebaord and came away with a shoulder contusion, you really need to wonder just where the Nationals will be if Harper suffers a serious injury.
Right now, it's not really a happy time in DC, despite the Nationals' 8-3 tear in May that has moved them to just one game behind the Braves in the NL East. Even with Harper posting a 1.022 OPS in 35 games, Washington's offense has been pitiful. As a whole, the team's OPS is just .670, and their 82 wRC+ and .292 wOBA are the third-worst marks in all of baseball, ahead of just the White Sox and Marlins. Most of that is due to a .281 BABIP, which ranks in the lower third in baseball, but injuries to other players have also played a part.
Jayson Werth is currently on the DL with a strained hamstring, and has just a .708 OPS in 27 games. Ryan Zimmerman has played in just 24 games this year due to a thigh injury, and has a .726 OPS and just one home run when he's been on the field. Danny Espinosa and Adam LaRoche have both been healthy, playing in 32 and 35 games respectively, but have been awful. Espinosa has a .549 OPS and has 28 strikeouts to just three walks, while LaRoche has a .602 OPS, a .101 ISO (comparable to light-hitting Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney), and a strikeout rate a hair shy of 30%.
Aside from Harper, the only above average regulars on the Nationals are shortstop Ian Desmond (who is raking with an .852 OPS and six homers despite never, ever walkign) and Zimmerman. Furthermore, the part-time players on the Nationals have been pretty terrible as well, with Roger Bernadina, Chad Tracy, Tyler Moore, and Steve Lombardozzi all putting together dreadful campaigns. In fact, all have been worse than LaRoche this year, and only Lombardozzi has been worse than Espinosa. Those four players have combined for 203 plate appearances of just disgusting performance, and they make up 80% of Washington's bench (with backup catcher Wilson Ramos taking up the fifth spot). Of course, due to the injuries to Werth and Zimmerman, they've been forced into more playing time than expected this season, even with prospect Anthony Rendon holding his own during a nine game trial with Zimmerman out.
What's all this mean? The Nationals would be in pretty grim shape if Harper had to miss an extended period of time. They've been held afloat this month by their pitching staff, which leads baseball in May with a 2.30 ERA. And it's not just the starters either, as the Nationals' bullpen has a 2.19 ERA in May, behind just the Yankees this month. Without Harper, I shudder to think at where they would be. It's easy to point at Harper's struggles this month and look at Washington's record and come to the conclusion that the team would be fine without him. But guess what? With Werth already out of the lineup, losing Harper would mean that two of Bernadina, Moore, and Eury Perez would be playing every day, and that is not something that would lead to future success. Look at what happened to the Giants in 2011 after Buster Posey got hurt: the team scuffled to a .671 OPS on the year and an 86-76 record despite a 3.21 ERA that was second best in all of baseball.
No Harper, no playoffs. It's really that simple.