Jul 23, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
They managed to keep their healthy lineup intact for 17 games before injury once again befell the Nationals last night.
Ryan Zimmerman strained his right hamstring legging out a grounder in the top of the sixth at Coors Field, hustle that allowed a run to score and ultimately helped the Nationals secure a 7-4 victory over the Rockies that extended their lead in the NL East to 2 games over Atlanta.
The full extent of Zimmerman’s injury won’t be known until he gets an MRI this morning in Denver, but you needed only watch the replay to recognize this isn’t going to be a day-to-day thing. Zimmerman clutched upper right leg about three steps shy of first base, then tripped and fell to the ground. He immediately called for a trainer, then had to be helped off the field, eventually putting some weight on the leg but limping noticeably as he departed.
Could a stint on the disabled list be avoided? Perhaps, but the odds don’t look great. At minimum, Zimmerman is going to need 15 days to heal, perhaps more. At which point the Nationals once again will have to make do with something less than the lineup they expected to field all season.
Zimmerman, of course, already spent seven weeks on the DL after fracturing his right thumb in mid-April. And fellow regulars Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche, Wilson Ramos and Denard Span all spent time of their own on the DL during the season’s first half.
They finally all came together on June 30, though, and since then the Nationals lineup had been the NL’s most-productive group. That was in no small part due to Zimmerman, who since that date was hitting .387 with a 1.050 OPS.
Now, the Nationals must prepare to move on without their veteran third baseman and No. 5 hitter. They’ve done this before, and they’re about as well-positioned as a team could be, able to slide Anthony Rendon over to third base and re-insert Danny Espinosa into the lineup at second base.
But make no mistake: The Nationals can’t just replace Zimmerman, whose all-around contributions to his team are real.
When he has played this season, the Nationals are 34-19. That’s a .642 winning percentage that over a full year would equate to 104 victories. When he hasn’t played, they’re 21-24, a .467 winning percentage that equates to a 76-victory season.
Now, there are other factors in that equation. Zimmerman’s time in the lineup has coincided with generally good health across the board for the Nationals. But to think this team can continue to play at this impressive pace — they’ve won 12 of their last 17 to attain the NL’s best record — without one of its key stars would be foolish.
Defensively, the Nationals will be better. Offensively, they will take a huge hit.
Such has been the story for this team this season, though. The Nationals lasted all of seven innings on Opening Day before losing their first starter, and they didn’t get them all back again until June 30.
These last 17 games have been something to watch. We finally got to see the full potential of this ballclub, and what we saw was mighty impressive.
Now, the Nationals must prepare to move forward at something less than 100 percent. How long they’ll have to endure like this depends on the results of the latest MRI being administered to one of their most-important players.
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