With Ramos out, can Nats win World Series?

Catcher's season-ending injury gives Lobaton chance to step up

September 28th, 2016

If you're going to win the World Series, you need a catcher. Who else is going to jump up after strike three, race to the mound and jump into the arms of your closer?

The left fielder surely can't do that. And it wouldn't be fair if the second baseman tried, because the pitcher wouldn't be looking.

No, for the right visual, a team needs its shutdown reliever and stud catcher jumping on each other before being buried by a pile of teammates. That's the way it works. But for the Nationals, this won't be able to happen the way they intended.

Not after tore the ACL in his right knee on Monday. He's been arguably the National League's second-best catcher this season, behind . Now Ramos needs surgery, which leaves the Nats with and rookie to catch in the postseason.

This is a huge blow to Dusty Baker's team, which will face the Dodgers in the NL Division Series. The Nationals would then likely have to get by the Cubs in the NL Championship Series to reach the World Series they've been chasing since and arrived, and they already have plenty of reasons to worry.

Strasburg, who hasn't been right since throwing 71 pitches in 1 2/3 innings at Colorado on Aug. 17, was shut down with a strained flexor tendon three weeks ago and has only recently begun playing catch. The lineup has sputtered in September, scoring 4.3 runs per game while delivering a .711 OPS, which ranks 12th in the NL.

Those numbers would be better with healthy -- he's been out of the lineup for nine games with a strained glute -- or Harper raking. He's had a roller-coaster ride of a season and was again heading downward (.214, one homer in 70 at-bats) before missing a few games with an injured left thumb.

Like rookie center fielder , Ramos had been huge for the Nats. In his age-28 season, he's had a breakout season (.307/.354/.496) after a solid start to his career. Ramos is leading NL catchers with 80 RBIs, and he is second to with 22 homers, which was why Baker had been hitting Ramos in the middle of his lineup.

Ramos' right-handed bat would have lined up well against the Dodgers, who will ride lefties and in the NLDS. Ramos had pounded left-handers this season (.330, with a home run every 11.4 at-bats).

That was an edge Baker needed given the significance of his two left-handed hitters, Harper and Murphy. Kershaw has largely owned Harper (1-for-15, with 10 strikeouts and one home run).

Ramos also provides a comforting presence behind the plate. He's thrown out 37 percent of runners attempting to steal (the best ratio among NL regulars now that is with Texas). But that might not matter, as the Dodgers and Cubs don't risk making many outs on the bases.

Here's some good news for the Nationals: They've still got NL Cy Young Award candidate , as well as , a strong No. 2 starter. And they've been able to win without Ramos in the lineup.

The Nats are 17-12 in starts by Lobaton, winning at almost the same rate as with Ramos as the starting catcher (72-50). But Lobaton is a .225 career hitter and the 23-year-old Severino is considered a receiver-first player, so it seems Ramos could be missed far more now that he's sidelined than when he was just getting a day off.

But here's the really great part.

There's no script for October. Maybe Lobaton will be the catcher rushing the mound to grab Nationals closer after the clinching game in the World Series.

The 31-year-old Lobaton has had his big moments. He had a walk-off triple and a walk-off homer in the same series in 2013 -- the only catcher to do that since 1917 -- and won Game 3 of the 2013 American League Division Series with a walk-off homer against the Red Sox's .

That was one of the few bad moments for Uehara that year. He would be embraced by Boston catcher after the World Series clincher.

It could be Lobaton's time this year.

Maybe the Nats' chances were better with Ramos, but if you write them off, you're making a mistake. You're discounting that postseason baseball is a wild world of unlikely heroes and uncharted outcomes.