Keeler: Injuries have slowed Nationals

I have to admit, I haven’t been paying much attention to the Major League Baseball lately. This is one of the periods where my love for baseball takes a backseat to the NBA and NHL playoffs, and of course, the French Open. However, when I looked at the MLB standings a few days ago I realized the Washington Nationals were …exactly where I thought they’d be considering they look more like a MASH unit than a team this season.

At the beginning of the season I thought the Nationals might have a shot at doing something special, but a slow start and injuries have set them back. So, I’m not surprised that they are an around-.500 team. They entered play Thursday at 29-28. The good news for all Nationals fans is they have a chance to turn things around and still have a great season.

Statistically, the Nationals are right around the middle in many offensive categories. They are 20th in runs, 17th in batting average, 15th in on-base percentage and 13th in slugging percentage.

Washington’s pitching has been much better, and that could be what keeps them in the pennant races until the offense can improve. The Nationals are fourth in ERA at 3.19. They are 11th in quality starts, 10th in WHIP and 16th in opponents’ batting average.

Obviously, the biggest injury of the season has been to Bryce Harper. The slugger has played in only 22 games, and had to have surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb. He is not expected back until early July. The big question is when he returns how long will it take him to get into top form.

The Nationals just got Ryan Zimmerman back – he has only played 12 games all season. He returned Tuesday after having been out since April 12 with a thumb injury as well (I’d say thumb injuries are a thumbs down for Washington fans). If he can stay healthy, he will certainly help make the team much better offensively. Zimmerman is actually taking Harper’s spot in left field.

The pitching also suffered a blow when Gio Gonzalez went on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. There’s no timetable for Gonzalez’s return, but he’s expected to pitch for the Potomac Nationals, Washington’s High-A minor league team, today.

On the bright side of things, the Nationals are still within a few games of the Atlanta Braves for first place in the NL East. If they can hang around long enough to get healthy they could be ready to make a big run for the postseason when it counts the most.

Ian Desmond is one of the guys keeping the Nationals afloat on offense. He has 11 home runs and 33 RBIs to lead the team. Jayson Werth leads the team with a .284 batting average.

Of course, Stephen Strasburg is having a solid year as one would expect. He leads the team with a 3.10 ERA and 101 strikeouts. He has the most wins of any starter. Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano have been great out of the bullpen. Clippard has 11 holds, and Soriano has 11 saves with a 0.82 ERA.

The Nationals could also go out and try to make a deal or two to strengthen the team, but I think for the most part if they get healthy they should be able to make a serious playoff push.

With all the injuries the Nationals have had this season, that would be something to really smile about.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd