The Nats will survive without Bryce Harper ... for now

Let’s ignore the fact that the game shouldn't have even been played.

Let’s ignore the fact that, because of a rainout in the Friday opener of the Washington Nationals-San Francisco Giants series, there was already a day-night doubleheader scheduled for Sunday, and that the rains came again on Saturday, causing a lengthy delay that ended after about three hours. Ended not because the powers that be decided to cancel the game, but because they decided to actually play the thing.

Let's also ignore the fact San Francisco entered the weekend 600 games back in the National League West (give or take a few hundred), and that Washington was 300 games up in the NL East (give or take). And that given their respective positions within their divisions, if Saturday's game had been canceled, there was virtually no chance it would've mattered if both teams ended up playing 161 games instead of 162.

And if it did end up mattering -- like if the Nationals ended up neck-and-neck with the Millouiscago Brewdinubs (that'd be the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs), or if they got crazy hot and ended up sneaking up on the Los Angeles Dodgers -- it wouldn’t be a huge deal for the Giants to make a return trip to the District for Game 162 on Oct. 2.

Let’s ignore all of that because, at this point, there’s no turning back. What’s done is done. Bryce Harper slipped on a wet first base and suffered one of the more gruesome-looking injuries you’re likely to see on a baseball field, and now he’s on the disabled list. There’s no undoing it. So let’s focus on what it means for the Nationals going forward.

The good news is, according to general manager Mike Rizzo, there was no damage to Harper’s knee ligaments. If there had been, like there was when Nats outfielder Adam Eaton blew out his knee in similar fashion in April, then Washington would have been looking at playing without Harper for the rest of the season -- both regular and post.

For now, Harper is on the 10-day DL with what’s being called a bone bruise. But just because it’s the 10-day DL and it’s being called just a bone bruise, don’t just assume Harper will be back in a couple of weeks. After all, teammate Jayson Werth has been out since early June, when he fouled a ball off his foot that resulted in an injury that also was described at the time as a bone bruise. More than two months later, Werth still hasn’t returned, and we now know that injury was actually a fracture. On top of that, Rizzo wasn’t able to give a time frame for Harper's return. So for now, it’s anybody’s guess as to when the face of the franchise gets back on the field.

Fortunately for the Nationals, they’ve got that aforementioned 300-game lead (OK, it's 14). No matter how much of the regular season Harper misses, his team is all but a lock for the postseason. It was the same logic that applied when leadoff man Trea Turner went down with a broken wrist in late June, and it’s even truer now that we’re six weeks closer to the playoffs and Washington has extended its division lead by a few more games. As Rizzo told reporters on Sunday morning, the club is inclined to err on the side of caution, just as they’ve done with starter Stephen Strasburg because ... well ... they can.

The question is, could the Nats afford to enter the playoff gulag either (A) without Harper for the duration or (B) with a Harper who’s in mid-February form due to a prolonged absence that didn’t allow him enough at-bats to ramp up in time for the postseason?

As good as Harper has been this season -- and to be clear, he has been good enough to put himself firmly in the MVP conversation -- there’s evidence to suggest Washington might be able to survive without him 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 that includes Werth and Turner, Strasburg and fellow starter Joe Ross (Tommy John surgery) and back-end relievers Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover. 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, especially when it comes to offense.

Is Dusty Baker’s ballclub better with Harper in there? Absolutely. But with sneaky MVP candidate Anthony Rendon, who batted third in the first game A.B. (after Bryce), along with Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy, there’s still firepower aplenty in the middle of the order. Although Turner isn’t the same kind of player that Harper is, he has been so dynamic and so valuable in the leadoff spot that getting him back comes close to canceling out Harper’s absence. Not to mention, rookie Brian Goodwin and recently acquired veteran Howie Kendrick have been godsends to Baker’s beleaguered outfield, Michael Taylor came off the DL on Sunday and Werth will return eventually (won’t he?). Washington can still score runs and win games, even without Harper.

But winning games against the Miami Marlins or Giants in August is very different from winning games against the Cubs or Cardinals or Dodgers or Diamondbacks in October. Whether the Nationals would be able to do that without Bryce Harper remains to be seen.

Hopefully, for their sake, they won’t have to find out.