Aug 18, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
If it feels like you’ve been watching the Nationals’ worst stretch of baseball in a long time … well, you’re absolutely right.
This team has gone 4-13 over the last 2 1/2 weeks, the franchise’s worst 17-game stretch since 2011. That’s also the last time the Nats finished with a losing record, a fact that probably doesn’t leave everyone feeling all warm and fuzzy inside right now.
It’s a stunning reversal of fortune for a ballclub that not very long ago looked like a safe bet to win its third division title in four years yet now finds itself 4 1/2 games behind the resurgent Mets entering the season’s final seven weeks.
And it leaves the Nationals at a make-or-break crossroads. There are 45 games to go, but it sure feels like the events of the next week will determine what exactly becomes of the 2015 Nats. Is this a team that still realizes its potential with a furious sprint to the finish line, or is this a team that sinks even deeper into the abyss and forever is remembered as a colossal failure?
And so that makes this a time for leadership, a time for key figures to step up and assume control of a ballclub currently spiraling out of control.
Whose team is this? Who is the one who commands the respect of everyone else in uniform and can lead them to a better place?
Is it Matt Williams? The second-year manager was hand-picked by GM Mike Rizzo after the 2013 season to lead this organization to new heights, but his words and actions over the last two weeks haven’t inspired much confidence. And his refusal to discuss the big picture and what can be done to turn things around has not been received well by the public.
Is it Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman? The two highest-paid position players on the roster, both mainstays who will remain part of the organization well beyond this season, are viewed within the clubhouse as leaders. But neither veteran displays the personality traits typically associated with trusted leaders. They are quiet by nature, insisting on staying even-keeled throughout a long baseball season, confident that talent will prove itself over 162 games. And neither is playing this year at a level that befits a player of top stature, lessening their message.
Is it Bryce Harper? There’s no debating his production on the field this season, and there’s no denying his Type A personality, which can be infectious when he gets on a roll. By all accounts, this should be Harper’s team now. He’s far and away their best player, not to mention their most outspoken individual. But he remains a 22-year-old in a room full over 30-somethings who have already been there and done that. And so Harper, to date, has shied away from taking on a leadership role among his older teammates.
Is it Max Scherzer? He’s the best pitcher on the staff, not to mention a 3-time All-Star, Cy Young Award winner and veteran of 10 postseason starts, including one in the World Series. And he has the security of a 7-year, $210 million contract that makes him the richest man in a room full of millionaires. Trouble is, pitchers rarely become leaders of an entire ballclub, especially those who only play once every five days.
Whoever the guy is, whether it’s one of the above names, all of them or someone else entirely, the time has come for leaders to emerge.
The Nationals have seven weeks left to save their wayward season. Given the favorable schedule, the weak state of the NL East and the fact they get to play the Mets six more times head-to-head, they’re in a far better position than just about any other 58-59 club in baseball history.
But it’s time to put up or shut up. It’s time to show everyone how good they are, not keep telling us how good they are.
It’s time for someone to lead the way.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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