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Nats not ready to panic yet

Aug 9, 2015, 7:17 PM EST

USA Today

The Nationals returned home last Monday with an opportunity ahead of them. They had just been swept by the New York Mets to close a road trip where they lost seven of 10 games. But awaiting them was a seven-game stretch against sub-.500 teams within the friendly confines of Nationals Park.

On the other end of that week was one of the most difficult parts of their 2015 schedule: three games at the Los Angeles Dodgers with both Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw lined up to start, then four at the San Francisco Giants with Madison Bumgarner set for the finale.

With some of the best teams in baseball up ahead, losing to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies is not ideal, but that’s exactly what transpired for the Nationals in what amounted to a 3-4 homestand overall. Losing to teams that will not be in the playoffs is one thing, but to have two winnable games blown by their setup man Drew Storen is a tough pill to swallow.

The Nationals did not lose any ground in the division after Sunday’s 6-4 loss to the Rockies, as the Mets also fell in their series finale in Tampa. But each time this team begins to show progress, they seem to let favorable matchups and situations elude them.

The Nats’ clubhouse leaders and manager Matt Williams all stuck to the message they have echoed for much of this season: it’s too early to panic and they will take this day-by-day until it’s really too late to turn things around.

That’s the mantra Williams has preached since he took the job before last season and he’s not going to change his philosophy now.

“We don’t think about that. It’s about tomorrow,” he explained on Sunday. “We have to play the Dodgers tomorrow. We’re in a spot where we’re in this thing and we have to be prepared for that. To look back on things does you no good. We look forward to tomorrow.”

That is consistent with what Williams has said all year and for as long as the Nats’ core of reporters has known him. He described it even further when pressed on how exactly his team can improve if he refuses to look back and evaluate in the big picture:

“That’s what you would think. But what I would think as the manager of this club is that we must play tomorrow. And if we don’t win tomorrow, or have the plan to win tomorrow, then what the hell are we doing here? That’s what I think. So, for me, it is in the past. There’s nothing we can do about it right now. Of course we want to get better, of course we want to win games. What we do right now is jump on that plane with a good attitude and go get the Dodgers and see what we can do. What other choice could we have? Pretty much none. So, we’ll go do that.”

The Nationals are still quite clearly in the division race, despite their standing in the context of the rest of the league. Overall, they have been a relatively mediocre team to this point. As of now they stand on pace to win about 84 games, or 83.9 to be exact. Usually that would put you in serious trouble at this point of the year, yet they remain just 1 1/2 games out of first place.

That fact, though bizarre and unusual as it may be, is not lost on the Nationals.

“You just gotta stay within striking distance and get where we need to be with two or three weeks left in the season and then go from there,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “We’re 1 ½ games out. It doesn’t matter if we turn it around or not. We could finish one game over .500, as long as we win the division it doesn’t matter.

“You can’t look at baseball on a day-to-day basis. That’s why it’s so hard for you guys. You guys have to write things that really don’t matter because you can’t talk about stuff every day in baseball. I’m glad I don’t have your job. It’s more of a large sample size sport. Look at the Mets earlier in the year, they won [11] in a row and then everyone said that they’re this great team and then they lost eight in a row and now they’re winning seven in a row.”

“I’m pretty optimistic,” Jayson Werth said. “We need to win more games [and] play up to our capabilities….I think we’re in good shape. We’ll be good. We just need to get rolling.

“We got a great team, we got a great group of guys. I love coming to the park and playing with these guys. I can’t say enough about them. We just got to pick each other up and just keep going. We got a long way to go. Again, I feel good. I feel good where we’re at. I love my team. I feel like it’s just a matter of time before we start clicking and we start gelling and we start rolling.”

Optimism is one thing, but the Nationals will have to play a different brand of baseball to take care of business out west. The Nats are now 9-14 in the second half of the season and 10 of their last 13 have come against losing teams.

If they continue to make mistakes, give up late leads and fail to take advantage of prime opportunities, the Dodgers and Giants will make them pay. Max Scherzer – who gave up three homers on Sunday but did not take the loss – perhaps summed up best what the Nationals will need to do to get back on track:

“Look, it is what it is. You have to win all these games. You have to find a way to dig deep and win these series. I know we’re playing some great teams. We’re going to face the Dodgers, Giants and [the Rockies] again. It’s going to be an absolute grind. That’s what August is about. You have to grind through the schedule and keep going at it. With 162, when you get in August, you have to find a way just to dig deep and grind out these games. It’s one pitch, one inning at a time. Sometimes you just gotta remind yourself that’s what it takes to win at this time of the year.”

As Scherzer explained, the Nationals know what they need to do to win, but one has to wonder how long they can go at this pace before the time to panic actually arrives.

  1. manassasnatsfan - Aug 9, 2015 at 7:20 PM

    I am not panicing, but I am very displeased at the poor small play.

    We score many runs on homers, but when we have the opportunity to tack on runs when there is the chance is getting old.

    • senators69 - Aug 9, 2015 at 9:15 PM

      Yes, the hitters are SO frustrating. And Span being out is SO HUGE. Would Cespedes been a good second move by Rizzo? Maybe. But if not, trading for another quality bat would have been most welcome. Do the Nats have any bats in the minors coming up soon aside from Difo and Turner? I’d have considered trading a minor league arm (like Cole) for a good bat.

  2. positivelyhalfst - Aug 9, 2015 at 7:30 PM

    I am going to leave this comment before I even read the post. The Nats may not be panicking, but a read of the comment section from the game recap sure does show that we Nats fans as a whole sure are.

    • Karl Kolchak - Aug 9, 2015 at 7:37 PM

      It’s the curse of the expectations game. This was a team expected to dominate, and yet it sits a mere four games over .500 after going 3-4 on a home stand against NL West bottom feeders. All season long most of their veterans have badly underperformed, and suddenly the two guys who carried this team in the first half look very human.

      I’m not necessarily in panic mode, but I’ve resigned myself that the special season I was expecting very likely isn’t going to happen.

    • natsnatsnatswoo - Aug 9, 2015 at 9:13 PM

      I’m not panicking, but I’m not reserving my postseason strip yet either. I’ll renew my Nats Plus Membership for 2016, of course, but no need to plunk money down for postseason games until there’s a better indication that they’ll actually be playing such games. In other words, I’m not keeping my October calendar clear this year as I did in 2012 and 2014. This whole season has had a deja vu all over again feel from 2013, hasn’t it?

      • therealjohnc - Aug 10, 2015 at 9:01 AM

        This whole season has had a deja vu all over again feel from 2013, hasn’t it?

        Well, except that in 2013 after 110 games the Nats were still under .500 at this point (54-56) and were 11.5 games out. Or by calendar date it was even worse, because when we woke up on August 10, 2013, the Nats had fallen to 55-60 and were 15.5 games out.

        It’s 2015, man. Every patch of adversity is NOT 2013 redux, and on the other hand every positive sign is NOT a sign that 2012/2014 are about to repeat.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 10, 2015 at 3:12 AM

      We can “panic” on this side all we like. It’s just fantasy baseball here. For the players, it’s never time to panic.

      It’s also never a good time to dis your manager anonymously to the media, if indeed that’s what somebody, or several somebodies, did. I’ll be really disappointed to find out who that was. That’s [poultry byproduct].

  3. cerberusbybriartek - Aug 9, 2015 at 7:39 PM

    Like it says in the hitchhikers guide-Don’t Panic (and always remember your towel)

    • ArVAFan - Aug 9, 2015 at 7:49 PM

      +1

    • therealjohnc - Aug 10, 2015 at 8:54 AM

      +42

  4. lphboston - Aug 9, 2015 at 7:57 PM

    Too many laid-back players on this team. These guys reflect their manager and do not play with any sense of urgency.

    • janebeard - Aug 9, 2015 at 8:01 PM

      I don’t think they are laid back at all. You don’t get to this level being “laid back.” They are trying to be even keeled, and not get on the rollercoaster.

      I’m trying to remember the same thing.

      • nattygoats - Aug 9, 2015 at 8:43 PM

        So standing there watching a ball hit the wall and only getting a single isn’t laid back? It’s cocky and arrogant. And it’s why you suck.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 10, 2015 at 3:13 AM

      Wait, I thought they don’t like the manager and he’s too wound up.

  5. positivelyhalfst - Aug 9, 2015 at 8:10 PM

    Matt Williams, the reigning Manager of the Year, will certainly not win it this year. That is because it was pre-ordained to belong to Joe Maddon the second he took the Cubs job. I’m fine with that. If the Nats blow it and don’t make the playoffs, I will join the great majority of the country in rooting for the Cubs to win it all.

    As for panicking, the need sure does require some context. The Nats are in second place by 1.5 games because the Mets won 7 in a row, including 3 head-to-head. This is a cause for panic. The Blue Jays, on the other hand, are 1.5 games behind the Yankees because they won 8 in a row, including the last 3 head-to-head. This is cause for excitement, without panic. Granted, the Jays also hold the top wild card spot, while the Nats are 5 games out from the second.

    The Mets and Yankees are both mediocre teams. The Nats and Jays are supposedly better than they are. I imagine, though, that in spite of all the similarities in their situations, that any poll across the country would result in an overwhelming conclusion that the Jays have a very much better chance of making the playoffs than the Nats.

    We’ll see. There really is no good reason to think so.

    • nattygoats - Aug 9, 2015 at 8:45 PM

      To the mets and Yankees are not mediocre. They are both clearly better then the Natinals

      • positivelyhalfst - Aug 9, 2015 at 8:52 PM

        You ARE a troll! Good to know. No more attention for you.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 10, 2015 at 3:14 AM

        *THAN. Better than. With an A.

  6. #4 - Aug 9, 2015 at 8:29 PM

    A couple of things that are unfair – questioning the team’s heart and Matt Williams’ intelligence. These guys want to win. The issue is that they do not know how to win.

    The Nats have a talented group of players. Hence they will win games – even some years they might win 98 games with the talent they have. Even this year because of the all the good players they have they still might win 90 games.

    Teams that underperform though tend to do the following things too often:

    1. Walk lead off hitters right after taking a lead.
    2. Get thrown out on the bases either because the coaching is too agressive or the runner makes a bad choice.
    3. Have pitchers who can’t bunt.
    4. Do not consistenly score a runner from 2nd with nobody out
    5. Have pitchers who make fielding mistakes

    Baseball is a hard game so these things will happen even to the best teams. I would ask all of the aplogists out there though this. How many times have the Nats won this season because their opponent has done these things? How many times have the Nats lost because they have done these things? I’m not keeping track but it seems like the first number is a lot smaller than the second.

    I also wonder this about MW. He is a player who is a product of the steroid era. He manages like someone who expects high scoring games where fundamentals are not as important as waitng for an offensive explosion. That time has passed.

  7. nattygoats - Aug 9, 2015 at 8:38 PM

    And that attitude my friends is why the Nats are where they are. Totally underachieving and still non chalet about the whole thing. And striving for just winning a crappy division is embarrassing. No pride no pride

    • Joe Seamhead - Aug 9, 2015 at 11:06 PM

      Yes, natsfan33, he is an ass.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 10, 2015 at 10:44 AM

      I resent that. I live in a non-chalet.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 10, 2015 at 10:45 AM

      This is what happens when you feed them.

  8. nattygoats - Aug 9, 2015 at 8:40 PM

    The team is satisfied with being average. That’s on the manager. Get him outta here.

  9. nattygoats - Aug 9, 2015 at 8:47 PM

    Yes yes . How about we bench that lazy slob Ramos for that.

  10. nattygoats - Aug 9, 2015 at 8:52 PM

    Werth says we are the team to beat. He’s batting 197. Bryce says give me my ring. Your 57 and 53 Bryce. Ramos stands and watches a so called home run. Drew gets bent out of shape because Rizz brings in a pitcher. Then proceeds to poop all over himself. Desi doesn’t sign the big deal then barely hits over the Mendoza line. This team is a complete mess. Fire MW when he steps off the plane.

  11. joemktg - Aug 9, 2015 at 8:53 PM

    The makeup of the team, the chemistry, the players, the managing, the coaching: it’s not going to change between now and 9/30. Is what it is.

    Look for their play on this roadtrip, but more importantly, during the subsequent homestand. If it’s crapola, then we can debate if the ship has sailed. Obviously depends on the Metropolitans’ performance.

    Give me 4.5 runs per game during this roadtrip, and I’ll be a happy camper.

  12. Section 222 - Aug 9, 2015 at 8:58 PM

    I’m not sure why we’re talking about whether the Nats need to panic. What does panicking get for you? Are they all of a sudden going to play better if they panic? Or if they panic (or Rizzo panics), does that mean that Rizzo blows up the team? And if he does that, will the blown up team all of a sudden catch fire? With Tyler Moore playing at 1B and Matt den Dekker playing in LF? Who are we kidding?

    Listen, on August 7, 2013, the Nats played game No. 114 of the “World Series or Bust” season, finishing up a 3 game series with the Braves. They lost all three games to fall 15.5 games back of the Braves in the NL East. Back then, I said, “stick a fork in ’em, they’re done.” The way they played that week made it clear that that kind of deficit was impossible to overcome. Others here insisted it was too early to give up, and proclaimed that as long as there was a mathematical possibility of making the playoffs, the Nats had a chance to be the team we expected at the beginning of the year. We all know what happened. Even with a torrid September, they finished 10 games back of the Braves and four games behind the second wild card team.

    15.5 games back with 48 games to play is time to panic. One and a half games back with 53 games left is not. It just isn’t. Sure, we all wanted to run away with this thing. We still dream of that 110 game-winning, greatest team ever that some predicted when Max Scherzer was signed. “Where’s my ring?” and all that. It’s crystal clear by now that that’s not going to happen. This team is not as good as we, and they, thought they were. But trailing the Mets by one game in the loss column, we still have a very good chance of making the playoffs, and as we all know, anything can happen in a short series with a good pitching staff.

    So no, don’t panic Nats. Not now, not later. That will achieve nothing. Leave the panicking to your fans whose mentality when they come to the ballpark has no impact on the outcome of the games.

    But maybe panic is just another way of saying “give up” or “throw in the towel.” If that’s what we’re talking about, then for goodness sakes don’t. There really is still time. The Mets’ pitching is good, but it’s young and probably won’t last the whole season. Yoenis Cespedes wasn’t the answer for the A’s, Red Sox, or Tigers, and I doubt he’ll be the answer for the Mets lack of firepower. Same for Juan Uribe.

    We need to buckle down and start playing up to our potential. Maybe that potential isn’t as great as we thought it was when this season began, but it’s still good enough to win the NL East, that’s for darn sure.

    • JayB - Aug 9, 2015 at 9:26 PM

      Panic is not a word or concept I use……but if you want to use it……what Panic means to me is stop making excuses for bad plays and bad player seasons. Panic means learn from mistakes and do not make them again…..Panic means make the moves you need to make before trading deadline and do not overestimate your teams talent. They needed a Bat…we all talked about that….they still need the bat for this year and beyond. Werth is done….all that is not really Panic….what I am asking for it is reflecting on the data and objectively taking care of business. Rizzo has been silent through all this…..He is letting MW make a mockery of a $150 Million plus roster and then insulting his fan base for asking good questions………..No problem with standing at Home Plate and watching the ball…… he got one base in at a critical point of the game in a critical time of the season…………. Ted Lerner will fire Rizzo if he lets MW run this team and his ticket revenue into the ground. Time to hear from Rizzo…..and if he says Ramos did nothing wrong and he has no problem with it then nobody can proudly ware Nats Geer again. If Rizzo says that was bush league an so was MW response….I plan to address that with them both……watch out….this team will turn it around right away……Kick in the Ass…that and a Big Bat and we are good.

      • Jfmii - Aug 9, 2015 at 9:43 PM

        JayB, where is the reference to the Texas Longhorns and Roger Clemens?

  13. stoatva - Aug 9, 2015 at 9:02 PM

    Well, having the best regular season record in the league two of the last three years hasn’t gotten us very far. Why don’t why try squeaking into the playoffs on the last day?

    • rlndtln - Aug 9, 2015 at 9:34 PM

      The disturbing part is that we are not a sound fundamental baseball team.I watched the Rockies a sad team bunt 3 times in a row.Are pitchers can not bunt.Our regulars can not move a runner.With a man on 2nd and no out you must do whatever it takes to move him not hit a one hopper to 3rd.Do not swing at a pitch that you can not attempt to move the runner.Forget about the 7th inning guy or the 8th inning guy and just match up as you go.We do not have any body that can be trusted to go into the 7th and 8th and get three outs.If we need a 4 out save go for it.MW should throw out the book and manage.

      • stoatva - Aug 9, 2015 at 9:50 PM

        I thought Janssen would have been a good choice for four innings both Friday and Sunday, since there was doubt going in about whether Storen was sufficiently rested.

      • stoatva - Aug 9, 2015 at 9:50 PM

        Four OUTS, I meant. D’uh.

  14. scnatsfan - Aug 9, 2015 at 10:19 PM

    Panic? No way. Panic would be if they don’t win the World Series we all get Ebola so now, I won’t panic. I am somewhat dismayed that MW, like DJ, doesn’t get that doing the same thing night after night, yielding mediocre results, won’t change because the sun comes up tomorrow. This team won’t develop the instinct to win overnight; it seems as if we have a roster populated with excellent players who are even better losers. That won’t change. The Giants and Cards win because they rise above, they refuse to lose. Our team punches a clock. Our team believes the hype. Sure we might make the playoffs but no way they make any noise. They don’t have the heart of a winner and never have. Still love them, still root for them but realize this is who they are, they aren’t in a slump.m

    • rlndtln - Aug 9, 2015 at 10:30 PM

      We never have the punch and Judy hitters like the Cards and Giants that make things happen and kill us.Everybody swings for the 3 runhomer that never happens.I would love to see the stat on no one out homers.It feels like we lead the league.

      • adcwonk - Aug 9, 2015 at 11:22 PM

        We never have the punch and Judy hitters like…

        Never?

        I recall this guy who led the league in hits last year, what was his name again. . . . I think his first name was Denard? Oh, and he played in 59 games this year, too, come to think about it.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 10, 2015 at 10:58 AM

        Well, hardly ever.

      • natsfan1a - Aug 10, 2015 at 11:33 AM

        We hardly ever have P&J hitters.
        Then give three cheers, and one cheer more,
        For the hardy Bloggers of the Insi(uh)Dor
        Then give three cheers, and one cheer more,
        For the hardy Bloggers of the Insidor.

        “Well, hardly ever.”

      • natsfan1a - Aug 10, 2015 at 11:34 AM

        (As you were. Smoke ’em if you got ’em.)

      • therealjohnc - Aug 10, 2015 at 5:05 PM

        Hm. I believe I’ve heard that music’s din afore …

  15. Joe Seamhead - Aug 9, 2015 at 11:09 PM

    The first place Astros in the AL West just lost 3 out of 4 to the last place A’s. I guess they might as well accept that their season is over.

    • adcwonk - Aug 9, 2015 at 11:21 PM

      Yeah, Astros obviously have no heart, can’t play when the rubber hits the road, and the manager’s dumb.

      or something like that, right?

      • scnatsfan - Aug 9, 2015 at 11:37 PM

        And you guys seriously think this home stand was an aberration?

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 10, 2015 at 3:58 AM

        Aberrant from what? There is no narrative to stray from. Predictions are fantasies, as in, not reality.

      • JayB - Aug 10, 2015 at 6:16 AM

        SC is correct…This team for 4 years at least has had the basic make up issues….they just are not Cards or Giant type winners. They are fine with whatever comes….and that is not going to change. They are paid very well and they have a very nice set up here. They win plenty over the long run (4 years)…that is good enough for them to rationalize if they fail in any one season or choke in the playoffs they still feel good about it.

        That does not bread a WS Champ for sure and as we know it does not even win you a first round playoff series. Rizzo gave these guys everything they needed and more to win in the playoffs and a third chance to do it.

        We shall see but next year has to have a whole new look from the coaching staff through training staff and especially players cause this group is exactly what you see…….a bunch of Wilson Ramos trotters and Jason Werth LFers.

      • adcwonk - Aug 10, 2015 at 9:23 AM

        They are fine with whatever comes….and that is not going to change.

        You not only predict the future, but you’re a mind reader, too?

        Got any stock tips for me?

  16. Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 10, 2015 at 3:19 AM

    We have a good team, and several very knowledgeable commenters, about the same number of trolls (but they really aren’t very good, like the ones we had in the old days), about the same number of drunks with anger issues, and half the cab drivers and barbers in the world seem to show up here to complain about how Rizzo, Matt, the team, Mark, and most of the rest of us are doing it wrong.

    So, all good.

    “It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.”

  17. Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 10, 2015 at 3:24 AM

    Or to put it another way, there’s an old Armenian proverb; in English, its’ something like, “When G-d wants to make a poor man happy, G-d causes him to lose his donkey, and then find it again.

  18. Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 10, 2015 at 3:26 AM

    How the heck did that extra apostrophe get in there? And close those quotes, do you think I’m trying to attribute the whole world??

  19. Another_Sam - Aug 10, 2015 at 6:41 AM

    Seriously, my friends – all that’s wrong with Williams is that his press conferences don’t look like the stereotypical performances we associate with classic baseball. I grumble about him too, but a nice winning streak would have us all humming a new tune.

  20. JayB - Aug 10, 2015 at 6:59 AM

    That is not all that is wrong with this team or with MW…..and yes winning and going deep into the playoffs playing excellent baseball would have me humming a new tune…..does anyone feel this team has that in them?

  21. chaz11963 - Aug 10, 2015 at 7:05 AM

    I think Karl is right at the top of this string. Expectations have been the biggest problem. Nearly every baseball expert on the planet predicted this to be one of the best teams not only this year, but possibly historically. We were all excited about the possibilities of a 100 win season. If you analyze the underlying reasons, there are plenty of things that just went wrong for the Nats this year. Even though they are certainly not going to win 100 games, they can still win the division after all the adversity and challenges of this season. I think that says a lot about the team too. I tend to think they will truly and finally bring it all together, put together a bit of win streak, and finally seal up the NL East.

  22. JayB - Aug 10, 2015 at 7:22 AM

    uh….what sent wrong this year to cause this…..under achievement by players and two vets who always get hurt getting hurt and missing tons of time……that is not random just sent wrong stuff that is exactly what you need to plan for…that is what the data said would happen is you look at the past 4 years….and when players slump for months you do not just put them out their again and again….you make moves to deal with the problem….not just shrug and say oh well that is how it goes some years. This team and this group had one last chance to change their narrative and they are telling us everyday…..they kinda like their narrative….tons of talent and money…not too concerned with results.

  23. ccallahan15 - Aug 10, 2015 at 8:05 AM

    And then there is the curse of the Babe homerun trot. If MW had just done what he said he would do they’d be ahead of the Cardinals. How many year must the Nats endure this affront to the bb gods? Run Matt Run (or trot)!!

    And maybe he did do the trot and I complete missed it. In which case never mind….

    • stoatva - Aug 10, 2015 at 8:15 AM

      Too insecure to risk making himself look silly. Which is sort of ironic.

      • rlndtln - Aug 10, 2015 at 8:29 AM

        Idiot.Punch and judy HITTERS with an s.Denard is not here and is finished.One hitter that is maybe a ounch and judy hitter.

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