Imagine telling a Nationals fan, in late March, that this is how it was going to go:
The team's biggest offseason acquisition, Adam Eaton, would play 23 games and then miss the rest of the season, hurt. Opening Day starter Stephen Strasburg would miss almost a month of the summer, hurt. And on Aug. 26, as pennant races are approaching the stretch run, the Nationals' disabled list would include:
• Defending Cy Young winner Max Scherzer
• 2016 Rookie of the Year runner-up Trea Turner
• 2015 MVP Bryce Harper
• The club's highest-paid position player, Jayson Werth
• Ryan Madson, acquired at the trade deadline to help stabilize the bullpen, and Enny Romero, who led the club in relief appearances when he got hurt in early August, and erstwhile closer Koda Glover
• Brian Goodwin, who replaced the injured Werth in left field, but who later moved over to replace the injured Michael Taylor in center field, after Taylor had replaced the injured Eaton
• Goodwin's replacement in left field, Ryan Raburn
• Turner's replacement at shortstop, Stephen Drew
• And Joe Ross
Now give that crying fan a big hug, and whisper the good news: The Nationals are on pace to win 98 games, which would match a franchise record. They're in first place by 12 ½ games, the second-biggest cushion in baseball. They've gone 9-5 since Harper went down. Is there anything that can slow this gutted juggernaut?
No, seriously. Is there?
To answer that, we laid out the Nationals' depth chart, uncapped a black redaction marker, and went crazy. We imagined a human pyramid gone wrong that knocked Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark out of the rotation. We spiked the Nationals' showers with a foot fungus that demobilized Matt Wieters, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Michael Taylor. We gave relievers Sean Doolittle, Brandon Kintzler, Matt Albers, Madson and Romero counterfeit eclipse sunglasses, and now their whole world looks like modernist art.
We also smashed the Nationals' fax machine and made it impossible for them to reactivate Scherzer, Harper, Turner, Werth, Goodwin or anybody else currently on the DL. Except Stephen Drew. We forced Stephen Drew to come back off the DL and we made him play every single day.
Then we reran FanGraphs' playoff odds -- which currently have Washington at a rounded-up 100 percent to win the division -- to see what would happen.
Here, for the record, is what the new roster would look like:
Plus, with this lineup, assorted bench players and pitchers -- Sean O'Sullivan and Matt Skole and Jose Marmolejos and Wander Suero -- would make appearances in smaller roles.
Would it be enough to get the Miami Marlins into the playoffs as NL East champs?
Almost certainly not. According to FanGraphs' playoff odds for the darkest timeline, the Nationals would still win the division about 96 percent of the time. They would win only about 37 percent of their games from here on out -- slightly better than the 2008 and 2009 Washington teams did, and the same as the projection for this year's Phillies -- but that would likely be plenty given the Nats' 12 ½-game lead.
As FanGraphs managing editor Dave Cameron explains, the Nationals would need to finish 7-29 to have less than a 50 percent chance of winning the division. "You'd probably have to get rid of almost every single legitimate big leaguer on the roster to get them under 50 [percent] at this point," he says. Meaning, more or less, that almost every starting player and his replacement would have to be injured. And then it'd be a coin flip.
Scherzer is scheduled to come off the disabled list and start Monday against the Marlins. His absence was hardly felt: With the new 10-day DL, he missed only two starts, and the two starters who took unexpected turns in the rotation allowed only one run in 10⅓ innings.
The NL East race is, of course, not where the drama in the rest of Washington's year lies. Rather, it's the postseason, and unless the incredible run of injuries continues to pick players off -- invest in shower shoes, guys -- what will actually happen is that the Nationals will start to get these players back.
Turner and Werth are both playing rehab games in the minors and should return soon. Goodwin is swinging a bat, if not yet sprinting. Romero is pitching in rehab games. Madson should be ready "in plenty of time" for the postseason. Even Eaton hasn't ruled out an October return.
Then there's Harper, who "continues to move gingerly" after his ugly, but not-as-bad-as-feared, knee injury. Expectations have been that he'll be healthy before October. And ESPN's Eddie Matz has noted:
There's evidence to suggest Washington might be able to survive without [Harper] come October. Don't believe it? Then you haven't been paying attention the past three and a half months. When Eaton's knee went kablooey in late April, there were those who thought the Nats' playoff hopes went kablooey right along with him. Since then, they've lost a laundry list of key cogs. ... The fact that they've continued to win and continued to pad their lead in the NL East speaks to just how deep the Nats are.
That depth could continue to be tested. More likely, it'll be reinforced.
Thanks to FanGraphs for research assistance.