Since the Nationals arrived in Washington for the 2005 season, September has held little meaning to Nationals fans. Each year the team has been out of the race before the month began, meaning September contained nothing more than the possibility that one or two of the organization’s younger players might get a few at bats, perhaps in an early effort to see what they could bring to the table the following Spring.
This year looks to be a little different.
The Nationals have held the lead in the NL East since Tuesday, May 22nd. They’ve been alone in first place all but one day, when they were temporarily tied with Atlanta on Sunday, July 3rd. After picking up their 70th win of the season Friday night in Arizona, the team sits 4.5 games ahead of the Braves, nearly equal to the biggest lead in the division they’ve held all season. With just 12 more victories in the team’s final 49 games they’ll finish above .500 for the first time in franchise history.
So what does this mean for the organization come September? Quite a bit, actually.
First and foremost, there will likely be a different view towards expanding the roster as of September 1st. For a change, players will be called upon to provide depth and fill specific roles, rather than just to get them acclimated to life as a big leaguer.
There are five players currently on the 15-day DL who could/should be activated by the start of September who’ll need to be added back onto the active roster.
Ian Desmond is easily the big name of the group, as the shortstop has been in the midst of a career season and will be a welcome addition to the lineup on an everyday basis. He’s been out of action since early July with a partially torn oblique muscle, though he’s started to take ground balls and make throws in the past week. His return will allow Danny Espinosa to move back over to second base and Steve Lombardozzi to slide back into a utility role, something he’s arguably better suited for. His return will also likely mean less playing time for Cesar Izturis and Mark DeRosa (when he returns from an abdominal strain), the type of veterans who in years past may have been released as the summer came to a close to make room for one of the younger players who the team wanted to find at bats for.
Right-handers Henry Rodriguez and Chien-Ming Wang are also expected back around the start of September, adding a pair of arms to the bullpen for the season’s stretch run. Rodriguez is on the shelf with a back strain, something that really may have been more precautionary than anything. While he’s struggled with consistency this year, there is clearly still some belief within the organization that his potentially electric right arm will be a valuable piece of the team’s success moving forward.
Wang has been rehabbing for much of the year, with mixed results. He was shut down this week, however, after experiencing some additional discomfort in his right hip. He, coupled with John Lannan, was to provide the rotation depth this team expected it would need once September rolled around – particularly if/when Stephen Strasburg is shut down for the year due to his innings limit.
Catcher Jhonatan Solano will also come off the DL before September begins, and will likely end up spending a week or two at Triple-A before rejoining the Nationals team. He and Sandy Leon could both find their ways to Washington, providing some added depth behind the plate and potential bat options off the bench.
But in addition to the returns of Desmond, DeRosa, Rodriguez, Wang, and Solano and the expected callups for Lannan and Leon there are two other likely candidates to be on the team’s September roster – outfielder Corey Brown and right-hander Ryan Perry. Both have seen time in Washington this year, only to return to the minor leagues due the limits of a 25-man roster. Both could play important roles down the stretch.
That makes nine players who could be factors in a few weeks. Nine players who are already on the 40-man roster and would not require the team to lose anyone elsewhere in order to make room. Nine players who won’t be simply be up to get at bats as an early look ahead to 2013.
Washington’s in a strong position with September on the horizon for once. It’s a position most Nationals fans are welcoming.