First off my opening paragraph was dead on and super sad in retrospect.
It would mean that in the 4 year window where the Nats were arguably the best team in baseball, they would have made the playoffs twice and never made it past the first round. There's no good way to spin that as a positive. This nightmare scenario (is) ... real tough on Matt Williams who will have missed the playoffs with a better team than Davey missed with. How can he be kept around?Answer? He couldn't be.
I initially set the Nats "everyone healthy and plays to expectations" talent level at 102 wins. Yikes. I was right about some issues that I thought could lead to a big drop. Desmond's continued slide, Rendon, Strasburg, Fister, and Zimmermann being less productive, Werth and the pen being much less productive.
I was wrong however thinking Yuney might be a win less than LaRoche (the guy he was in practice replacing offensively). Escobar was actually better. I was wrong that Scherzer might be less productive. He was even better than he was in 2015. I was wrong thinking Gio would go down. He was stable. I was also wrong thinking Span would have to be less productive. He was actually just a good as 2015. And I was wrong thinking the Nats couldn't lose that many games without Bryce plateauing talent-wise. Bryce exploded.
Looking at those last two paragraphs in a vacuum it would be hard to see how the Nats actually missed the playoffs. Some things went right, some things went wrong. Even if you say "more went wrong than right" you aren't looking at a 19 game drop from the above. Maybe a couple of wins. Well it turns out two other things crushed the Nats.
One was injury. This can't be helped. I don't predict injury in these scenarios beyond saying this guy might play a handful of fewer games than a full season. (I had Ramos and Zimm at 120 for example) This is the only way to do it because long-term injuries are hard to predict. So it was great say that 2015 Span was equally productive when he played to 2014 Span, but 2015 Span played 60 games and his replacement, MAT, wasn't good. Zimmerman at the plate wasn't too far off 2014, but he didn't put up anything close to a full season. I flat out said "missing the playoffs without injury is almost unreasonable". We have to state this, because some people still think it isn't the case, but the Nats missed the playoffs in large part thanks to injury.
But even that doesn't exactly explain everything (although it certainly explains a lot and ties into what I'm going to say next). The other thing that happened is that I underestimated the slides that the talent could take. Desmond slid further than I thought. Rendon went from All-Star to average. Werth was worse than that. I had Zimmerman holding his disappointing ground and he was less productive. I had Ramos hitting just as bad as in 2014 and he somehow managed to do even worse. ZNN was well off his 2015 season. Once guys like Espinosa were pressed into regular service, the bench was exposed. The Nats not only got hurt but got worse and that combination countered the few bright spots that would have normally kept them very close to a playoff spot, if not in.
What does it mean for this year? Obviously injuries matter but that could be said of any year. It more importantly means that the "healthy & hit expectations" baseline production for the Nats has dropped a ton. 102 wins to some number I'll guess right now at least 10 wins worse. All these guys still here : Ramos, Zimmerman, Werth, Rendon, literally half the offense, have big drops in what we can reasonably expect they will do. That'll make the dream scenario that much harder to get to, and the nightmare scenario that much closer. However, I still expect to be able to work my way to a very very good year for the Nats from their "healthy & hit expectation" base.
I haven't felt this unsure about a Nats team in years. I could go into a coma today, wake up in October and you could tell me the Nats won 98 games or 80 games and I probably wouldn't be surprised. No breakouts and no injuries are needed, I think, to reasonably get the Nats anywhere from hugely disappointment to WS favorite. At least that's what I think I'll see. We'll find out next week.