I’m officially over the Washington Nationals. Maybe it’s because I live in Atlanta and nobody here likes them. Maybe it’s because they are the biggest joke in baseball. Seriously, look:
THE NL FAVORITE WASHINGTON NATIONALS.
Seriously, though, how many more years are we going to have to hear how these guys are National League contenders? When they packed up their belongings in Montreal and headed south of the border in 2005, the Nationals suffered through hard times. They finished above fifth place just once between their debut season in 2005 and 2011, and that was a fourth place finish in 2007. The Nats were a joke then, as well, but for a different reason… they plain old stunk.
Then, at the end of 2010, the savior of the Nationals made his long awaited debut. Remember Stephen Strasburg‘s first three starts? They were sick, and the whole nation was watching. It was like the second coming of Fernando Mania. He went 2-0 over those three starts, allowing just four runs while striking out 32 over his first 19.1 innings. The future was bright.
Of course, that’s when what has become to be known as the the current day Nationals began. The young flamethrower was shut down with shoulder soreness in July, and by August, Stras had Tommy John surgery. He would return in 2011 but only make five starts as the Nationals had a plan to limit Strasburg’s innings in order to preserve his and the Nationals promising future.
That’s when things went awry. The Nats headed into 2012 with newly acquired ace Gio Gonzalez, their prized pitching prospect Strasburg, and the 19-year old NL version of Mike Trout — Bryce Harper — in their lineup. They rose to first place, finishing 98-64, a win total even their former Montreal Expos could never achieve. But of course, there were those innings limits.
Strasburg was only allowed to pitch 180 innings that year, and despite going 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 159.1 innings, despite the Nationals heading to the playoffs for the first time in their franchise’s history, Mike Rizzo and the gang actually shut him down.
You can argue that this single move set the Nationals back. This constant babying of their players has quite possibly done irreparable damage to this squad. That Nationals team in 2012, the team with the best record in all of baseball, lost their first ever playoff series three games to two with their best pitcher on the bench. With the series tied at one game a piece, they turned to Edwin Jackson, not Strasburg, and got blown out 8-0. Not because Strasburg was hurt, not because he was fatigued, but because they were worried he would get fatigued or hurt.
And guess what happened, folks? The Nats went out and made a huge splash signing Max Scherzer — two years removed from an AL Cy Young Award and the leader in wins in the AL for the past two seasons — to a deal that essentially made him a $30-million a year arm and the Nationals are currently nine and a half games out of the wild card spot. They trail a New York Mets team that was considered to be a year away with so much young talent (that doesn’t seem to be in danger of being shut down in their magical run) by four and a half games, and after a humiliating west coast trip, sit under .500 at 58-59 in the middle of August.
And I am not in the least bit surprised. Strasburg, of course, has been injured on and off all season. It is time to question whether this guy has the moxie to be a top of the rotation talent or is, what I like to call, the Adam Dunn of pitching — strikeout or bust. Harper looked like he had been on course to finally play a full season, but keeps missing games from minor dings and dents. He is finally putting together an MVP-caliber season, but what has happened? Everyone else around him is deteriorating.
Anthony Rendon can’t get healthy. Ryan Zimmerman? Please, if this guy plays 100 games in a season it’s a moral victory. Jayson Werth? Broken. And Ian Desmond, in a contract year, is falling apart at the seams.
This past week was the exclamation point to an embarrassing season. They headed west to play two big series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, two teams that winning or even splitting a series against could make up some ground in the wild card race. Instead, they lost two of three to the Dodgers and were swept in a four game series by the Giants.
They were outscored 39-20 and shutout three times, including consecutive nights in Los Angeles. And did you see Sunday? Madison Bumgarner made a fool of the Nats, hurling a complete game, three hit shutout while striking out 14 Nationals, including three Ks of Harper. Oh yea, he also went 2-for-3 with a double, a home run and two RBI. Ugly.
Why? Why can’t the Nationals ever seem to get over that hump. I mean come on guys, 11 years is enough time to say you at least won a playoff series.
I think the whole reason stems from that 2012 season. The brass of the Nationals team sent forth the message that it is better to play it safe, when they should have just gone for it. What did they prevent with Strasburg’s innings limit? Not a thing, because three seasons later, in what was supposed to be their biggest year ever, Stras has been constantly hurt with a career worst ERA and WHIP. It sent a message to the team. Lay it up, boys, don’t go for that eagle.
My guy Ricky Keeler over at the Nationals site District on Deck discusses an interesting notion. As he points out, current GM Mike Rizzo, who isn’t necessarily to blame for everything, but with a name like Dave Dombrowski on the market, it may be time for a change in the front office. Dombrowski has a winning resume (he took the Marlins to the ’97 Series and made two World Series appearances at the helms of the Tigers), but he does it at the expense of the future. The Nationals have an elite farm system, that should someone like Dombrowski take the helms, he can rebuild the team pretty quickly, but at what cost? Will it make the Nats an even bigger joke four or five years from now.
I don’t have answers on what could make this Nationals team better. I also can’t remember a team that annually underperforms as badly as the Nationals have done since 2011. And when you watch the same story year in and year out, it wears itself thin. At least in the early stages it was humorous to watch, now the annual train wreck is just plain old boring.