The Nats are in a bit of a sticky wicket right now, with three starters and an starting pitcher out. Span, with a concussion, should be back soon, but concussions are tricky. We'll assume he's back in the lineup up sometime this week and move onto the big three. When will they be back? What do the Nats face during this time? What are reasonable expectations?
Let's look at the schedule. The Nats will play two more games away against the reeling Marlins. Strasburg vs Koehler and Roark vs Fernandez both look like obvious wins - so let's say split for those two (giving the Nats 2 of 3 away - a good outcome) and move on. We'll do quick looks here - save the real analysis for the actual start of the stands.
Homestand 11 games, 4 vs STL, 3 vs LAA, 4 vs SDP
Pretty standard homestand but it starts on the 17th which is way too early for anyone to comeback. By the end we're at the 27th and Fister becomes a remote possibility as would a super fast healing Ramos but this is a weird part of the schedule, you'll see.
Away Trip 5 games; 2 @ HOU, 3 @ PHI
Homestand 3 games; 3 vs LA
Away 6 games; 3 @ OAK, 3 @ ARI
See? Home on the 27th of April, then Houston on the 29th, Philly on the 2nd of May, DC on the 5th, Oakland on the 9th. It's a ton of travel, but it's not too bad on the team as there are days off right now on either side of the Houston trip, before heading to Oakland, and after the last game. Still, it seems unlikely they'd bring guys in to be bounced around like that especially with Syracuse on a homestand from the 1st through the 8th.
The way I see it Fister (and Ramos if healthy - I'll guess not, but if) will be in Syracuse for that homestand then join the Nats out West. Makes sense for Fister to start vs Oakland sometime during that May 9th series. He's familiar with stadium and team, and the late West Coast start time could ease him into the rotation, as opposed to a prime time DC start. Ramos, it makes more sense in my mind, to wait until the next homestand which starts on the 16th. Syracuse does not travel far (Columbus, then Toledo) so a short rehab stint with them is possible. Given his slow healing history I think that's more than fair. (6 weeks would be about the 14th).
Homestand 6 games; 3 vs NYM, 3 vs CIN
Away 4 games; 4 @ PIT
Homestand 9 games; 3 vs MIA, 3 vs TEX, 3 vs PHI
It's a nice long time in the area, basically 3 weeks interrupted with a short jaunt to Pittsburgh from May 16th through June 5th. A good time to acclimate players. Zimm in theory could join the team when I think Ramos will at the start, (4 weeks would be about May 11th) but I'd bet on him being back with the later homestand, which kicks off on the 26th.
What about expectations? The stretch they face before Fister would come back vs Oakland has some tough teams, but they get them at home. I think if they can go 11-10 during that time (tonight through Oakland) I think that's fair. Won't put them in first, but they won't be out of it. (unless ATL pulls one of those 15 game winning streaks) I know I said .500 till these guys are back may not cut it, but I was saying till they ALL come back which would be the very end of May or into June. .500 for the next couple weeks would be ok.
Post-Fister the schedule looks pretty soft. Split the games away then Ramos is back for easy teams and easy travel for 3 weeks. You have to like the Nats to start moving up here 6-4 w/Ramos, before Zimm? 6-3 in that homestand with everyone? Now we're looking way far ahead but 34-25 at that point would feel pretty good.
Boiling this rambling down - we're looking for the Nats to go basically .500 from now until that easy stretch begins (hopefully with Ramos returning). That's 27 games so something like 14-13. Then something like 12-7 during that long stretch when by the end of it, everyone should be back and healthy. Two separate goals. Maintain over the next month. Impress over the 3 weeks after that. Neither goal seems unattainable.
The injuries matter but the Nats catch somewhat of a break with a schedule that's toughest section looks to be months from now during the stretch run. Right now they might be able to muddle through a perfectly average stretch then dominate an easy one as guys start coming back.