Nationals fail to bring fans a postseason bid
The last time one of the major four Washington professional sports teams won a championship of any kind was in 1991-92 when the Washington Redskins defeated the Buffalo Bills to win Super Bowl XXVI. The Nationals, however, expected that to change in 2015. After signing former Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, the Nationals were Las Vegas to become the next champions of baseball. Analysts sung their praises. Even the face of the franchise proclaimed, "where's my ring?"
Things were going swimmingly until the middle of the summer. Essentially, the New York Mets happened. The Mets took off, relying on their young and deeply talented pitching staff to win games (anchored by Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard). They made some incredible trade deadline moves, such as acquiring slugger Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers, former All-Star relief pitcher (and former Nationals closer) Tyler Clippard from the Oakland Athletics and infielders Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson from the Atlanta Braves. Simply put, the Mets made things happen while the Nationals didn’t.
It has been a whirlwind weekend for the Nationals. On Friday night, longtime National pitcher Jordan Zimmermann pitched what was likely his final home start in a Nationals uniform. Unfortunately, it was perhaps the worst start of his career (and it came on his bobblehead night, too). On Saturday afternoon, the Mets handily defeated the Cincinnati Reds 10-2 to clinch the National League East and eliminate the Nationals from postseason contention. The inevitable had finally come.
Things couldn’t get any worse for the Nationals and their long-suffering fan base, right?
Wrong. Sunday afternoon spawned perhaps the worst Nationals outing of the year, and that’s saying something. Through the first eight innings, it was a typical baseball game. The score was 4-4. Out of the blue, closer Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper came to blows. This was the epitome of everything that was wrong with this baseball team. Its flaws played out on full display for all of the public to see on Sunday afternoon. In the ninth inning, the Nationals gave up eight runs to lose the game by a final score of 12-5. The loss was an all-too-fitting ending for the Nationals’ final home series.
What Needs to Happen
The reset button needs to be pushed. The dysfunction on this ball club right now is as high as it has ever been. The lack of communication between manager Matt Williams and the team is evident, and it’s been showing on the scoreboard as well. Lately, the Nationals haven’t just been losing, but they’ve been losing in humiliating, embarrassing fashion. Williams deserves to be excused for his communication problems alone. When Jayson Werth, an outfielder for the team, is proclaiming that Williams has "lost the team", it is time to start again. When a coach in any sport has lost the faith and trust of his team, he has created an environment not conducive to winning. That certainly seems to be the case here.
But if you need more persuading that Williams must go, simply look at his bullpen management. Williams is notorious for using upwards of four pitchers in a single inning (he’s done it regularly), and by doing so, he’s cost the Nationals more than a few games. It’s a technique that does not work and has not worked historically either, yet Williams continues to embrace it despite its obvious lack of success.
Papelbon also must exit the team. Once viewed as the “missing link” that would all but guarantee Washington a postseason berth, Papelbon’s presence on the team has been cancerous and disastrous. Fighting with Harper ever so publicly on Sunday afternoon was clearly just the boiling point of something that had been brewing for quite awhile. The closer/setup man relief role has been an area of need for the Nationals for quite some time; Papelbon is not the man to step into that position. And, let’s not forget Papelbon has a history of not behaving himself in public.
Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond and Denard Span have likely played their final games in Nationals uniforms. The 2016 Washington Nationals roster will look entirely different from the squad that was pushed out on the field this past season. And at this moment, change might not be such a bad thing, either. John F. Kennedy once remarked that “change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” No quote is more fitting to the Washington Nationals, even though one can be certain President Kennedy didn’t have a down-on-its-luck baseball team in mind when he spoke those words. This is a team that needs to look forward and make do with what they have. Bryce Harper will be back, as will starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer. The Nationals will certainly miss the likes of Zimmermann and Desmond, but the team must be prepared to move on without them, or else 2016 will be even worse than 2015.
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