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MLB Washington Nationals

Washington Nationals’ Window to Win is Wide Open — And Widening

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals announced recently that three of their key players all had surgery within the last two weeks. Stephen Strasburg had surgery to remove bone chips from his pitching elbow, Bryce Harper had surgery to repair the bursa in his knee as expected and Adam LaRoche also had surgery on his left elbow, which could explain his downright nightmarish year offensively.

Harper’s surgery was probably the least surprising, and Strasburg did have some forearm tightness throughout 2013, so it can be said that his surgery may not be so surprising either. LaRoche needs a bounce-back year, and the last time he had surgery, he came back the following year and hit 30 runs.

Even with Strasburg’s inconsistent year, he still finished with a 3.00 ERA and still had more strikeouts (191) and way fewer hits (136) than innings pitched (183). Harper also still finished with 20 home runs for the second-straight year, and even improved his slash line from his rookie year (.270/.340/.477 in 2012, .274/.368/.486 in 2013).

For some reason, these three surgeries have spurred people to question Washington’s “window to win” and whether or not they have missed it.

Dave Schoenfield of ESPN.com’s SweetSpot Blog recently wrote an article questioning whether or not Washington has missed their opportunity to win, and even went so far as to question whether or not Strasburg and Harper will ever reach their potential. He suggested that Harper is too young to have knee problems, and pointed to his time a catcher prior to Washington drafting him as a reason why.

Seriously? It almost seems as if people who write about the Nationals have no concept of what goes on in the organization. Any Nationals fan on Twitter knew for months that Harper was probably going to have surgery to repair the bursa in his knee, as well as knowing what the cause of bursa being aggravated was: the wall at Dodger Stadium that Harper ran full bore into on a misread fly ball. If Harper doesn’t hit the wall, guess what — he doesn’t have surgery.

It’s also starting to become painfully obvious Strasburg will never be able to get past the shutdown to some people. Again, for the umpteenth time, the shutdown was to protect Strasburg from re-aggravating the repaired UCL in his elbow within the first two years of having the surgery.

Washington instituted the same innings limit with Jordan Zimmermann, Taylor Jordan and every other pitcher who had the surgery in their organization, but Strasburg gets all the scrutiny because he was the team’s no. 1 pick in 2009, which is flat-out unfair and dumb.

As for Schoenfield questioning Washington missing their window, I’m sorry, but that statement is borderline idiotic. They have a top three in their rotation of Strasburg, Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez, three closers in their bullpen in Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano, and a great, young offensive core in Harper, Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos, as well as veterans in Ryan Zimmerman (who still is not even 30), Jayson Werth and LaRoche.

Sure, Washington needs a second baseman, a bounce-back year from LaRoche and Storen, and has an unknown in Matt Williams as the manager, but GM Mike Rizzo has done nothing but make sound, pragmatic moves that have helped the team and made it very deep.

To claim they have missed their window after one down year is just a ridiculous statement. Washington, in my eyes, was suffering from a Game 5 hangover and it took them awhile to get past it. Combined with a terrible bench and inconsistent bullpen, Washington had a down year.

But did they miss their window? Please. Their window is wide open, and only getting wider.