On Sunday night against the Mets, the Nationals rolled out a lineup starkly different than the one that took the field on Opening Day.
Second baseman Daniel Murphy was the only starter on Sunday night that also started on Opening Day. Murphy, Matt Wieters, Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg are the only currently healthy players that were Opening Day starters.
With a 12-game lead as of August 28, and barring a historic collapse, the Nationals will win the National Leagye East division this season. But winning the division is not the goal this year: 2017 is all about winning a playoff series for the first time since the team moved to D.C. in 2005.
To do that, the Nationals have to get healthy.
Max Scherzer will return and start for the Nationals on Monday night after his second DL stint for neck discomfort. With Scherzer back, the Nationals have all of their top-three starters healthy at the same time.
All the while, Tanner Roark has gotten hot recently, with a 5-2 record over his last nine starts. He has thrown at least five innings in seven of last nine starts as well. The Nationals pitching rotation is healthy, and catching fire with the postseason at the doorstep.
Trea Turner and Jayson Werth have both missed significant time this season. Turner was placed on the disabled list on June 30 and Werth did the same on June 5. Both are currently on rehab assignments with the Potomac Nationals, and their returns appear imminent. Both will need time to acclimate to MLB pitching, but they have time before the NLDS rolls around.
Once those two are back, all the Nationals will have a healthy roster, minus centerfield Adam Eaton, who tore his ACL and Bryce Harper. At best, the Nationals can hope Eaton will return for a possible World Series berth like Kyle Schwarber did last year for the Cubs. Michael A. Taylor has played well filling in for Eaton, but the biggest piece the Nationals still missing is Harper.
Harper was diagnosed with a deep bone bruise after slipping on a wet first base bag against the Giants in August. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said the MVP candidate will play again this year, but the question is, when?
More than Murphy, more than Zimmerman and more than Anthony Rendon, Harper is the Nationals most important hitter. For the Nationals to make a run in the postseason, they need to get Harper back.
Harper still has no timetable yet for a return however. His condition has been improving as the report mentions, but he is still nowhere near being able to return.
The Nationals will want to get Harper back before the postseason begins in order to get him a few at bats. At the same time, they also don’t want to push Harper too hard, but with around a month until the postseason, we are nearing the time where some alacrity needs to be shown.
To get Harper back in time to tune up for the postseason is nothing more than a race against time.