Two; count ’em, two. That’s the measly number of games that Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams was able to deploy the lineup that was expected to deliver Bryce Harper his sought-after World Series ring. Well, it was good while it lasted for the Nationals, as Denard Span is headed back to the disabled list yet again, this time with hip inflammation.
Span sat out last night’s win over the San Diego Padres, and after being placed on the 15-day disabled list, will likely not take the field for the Nationals again as they play out the final 36 games of the 2015 season. This latest setback should come as no surprise, as Span has been dealing with core and back injuries all season. He underwent two abdominal surgeries in the offseason. The hip injury seems to be a result of weakness and overcompensation related to the core and back injuries. To make matters worse, Span’s replacement, Michael Taylor, crashed into the wall in center field last night so hard that he ripped the padding covering the wall, and left with a sore knee. Taylor, however, does not appear to have suffered any lasting effects that will cause him to miss significant playing time.
Span’s latest injury could not have come at a worse time for the Nationals. In the 61 games in which he was able to take the field this year, Span was very good, slashing .301/.365/.431 with 11 stolen bases and as many walks as strikeouts. When healthy, Span remains one of the best centerfielders in the game, and the Nationals had been counting on him to help mount a charge against the New York Mets, who refuse to lose (the Mets faced deficits of 7-2, 4-3, and 5-0 in three of the four games in their recent sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies).
On a personal level, the injury struggles this year are also not good for Span as he prepares to enter free agency. With Taylor appearing ready to play every day, Span has likely played his last game in the nation’s capital. Span should not have a hard time finding a new team, but could miss out on a longer deal due to injury concerns. The 31-year-old does remain a talented player, and a two-year deal could allow him to prove the setbacks of this year were more a culmination of constantly having to push through minor injuries. There’s a very good chance Span was not at 100-percent when the Nationals activated him, but made a valiant attempt to help spark his team to a playoff berth.
The Nationals’ season is far from over, and no one should bet against them making a run to challenge the Mets. The going gets much harder, though, without Span. The next ten games leading into a crucial three-game set against New York will likely determine whether the Nationals have any chance of making up the 6.5 game deficit that stands between them and the postseason.