Rarely does anyone ever try to claim the All-Star break came at a bad time. Just about every team in baseball happily takes the four-day midsummer hiatus offered to the entire league, uses that time to rest up physically and mentally and then returns recharged for the second half of the season.
The Nationals certainly fall in that category. They limped a bit into the All-Star break, having played 36 games in 38 days, going 19-17 over that span, while also sending five key players to the disabled list along the way.
That is their worst 36-game stretch of the season to date (which also underscores how good this team actually is, when you consider their worst prolonged stretch still included a winning record).
Now they open the second half with an unusual road trip: four games in Cincinnati, two games in Anaheim, three games in Phoenix. They’ll open that trip with all five of those injured players (Jayson Werth, Trea Turner, Michael A. Taylor, Koda Glover, Shawn Kelley) still on the DL, but that may not be the case much longer.
The club is targeting the Arizona series next weekend for Werth’s return, manager Dusty Baker said before the break, and that will be a boost for a lineup that has been shuffling around its 1-2 hitters for weeks.
The others are farther away from a return, but the All-Star break could have done wonders for guys who have been active all along but were in need of a respite. Take catcher Matt Wieters, who given his position, age and injury history just got seven of the Nationals’ last 24 games off. The team’s record in the seven games he missed: 2-5.
How did Wieters plan to spend his break?
“Quick reflection (on the season),” he said after Sunday’s game. “I think I’ll probably do it more tonight and then kind of put baseball on the back burner, other than watching these guys play in the All-Star Game. Other than that, it’s kind of take these three days for what they’re worth and enjoy the relaxation, because we don’t get it very much.”
Members of a rotation that has thrown an awful lot of pitches so far this season also got a break and a chance to return on extra rest. Gio Gonzalez starts tonight against the Reds on seven days’ rest. Max Scherzer starts Saturday on seven days’ rest himself (though he of course faced four batters in the top of the first inning Tuesday night in Miami). Tanner Roark starts Sunday on seven days’ rest since his five-inning relief appearance. Stephen Strasburg starts Monday on eight days’ rest since his abbreviated start that prompted Roark’s relief appearance.
Baker’s advice to his players before they dispersed around the country (or beyond) after Sunday’s game? Don’t ignore work entirely for four days.
“I urge them to do something,” the manager said. “Swim, run, throw. Do a little something. Stretch. Because it doesn’t take long to decondition. You’d be surprised. It’s more of a mental break and physical break, in that order, I think.”