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How do the Nationals come back from this one?

Sep 9, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT


Matt Williams doesn’t much like talking about big-picture stuff. You’ve repeatedly heard the second-year manager asked about the state of his Nationals this summer, and you’ve repeatedly heard him refuse to take the bait.

But then comes a game like Tuesday night — a game that defied logic given the manner in which the Nationals’ bullpen turned a 7-1 lead into an 8-7 deficit in the horrific span of 12 batters spread among the seventh and eighth innings — and Williams couldn’t avoid answering the big-picture question.

How on earth do you come back from something like this?

“There’s times where things go well. And you understand that there’s time on the other side of that coin,” Williams said. “So, what do you do? You pick yourselves up by the bootstraps and you go. You don’t have a choice at this point. In all of those guy’s lives, and in mine, there have been good times and bad times. So we learn from the bad, appreciate the good, take nothing for granted and come with a fresh attitude tomorrow and go to work.”

It may not remind you of Knute Rockne. It may not inspire you to jump out of your seat and run straight through a brick wall. But there’s not much else Williams can say at this point.

And there’s not much else the Nationals can do at this point but show up to the ballpark Wednesday and try to beat the Mets. It may sound implausible, but it would still leave them 5 games back with 23 to play. Yeah, yeah … the odds are minimal. But it has happened before.

“I come from the school of: ‘Never say die,'” Jayson Werth said. “It’s not over ’til it’s over. We’re not out ’til we’re out. But, this one is tough to swallow.”

That’s the problem. Had the Nationals merely lost the first two games of this series in uneventful fashion — giving up too many big hits, failing to come up with enough of their own — the suggestion of bouncing back wouldn’t be so outrageous.

But consider how exactly they lost these two games. They essentially hit a grand slam in each of them to take what should have been a comfortable lead, not to mention energize a ballpark full of fans who desperately want to believe in this team.

“It was pretty crazy,” Michael Taylor said of his 360-foot scamper around the bases. “It was a good feeling. It was pretty cool.”

Taylor’s sort-of-inside-the-parker and Wilson Ramos’ traditional grand slam Monday afternoon should have been defining moments that turned this ballclub’s season around. And both of them were utterly wasted by wretched pitching performances, none of them more wretched that what transpired in the top of the seventh inning Tuesday night.

The Nationals led 7-1. Blake Treinen was on the mound. There were two outs and a man on first. Nothing about that scenario suggested cause for concern. Until it did. The next eight at-bats were straight out of a horror novel … or a Little League game: Walk, RBI single, pitching change, walk, bases-loaded walk, pitching change, 3-run double, walk, walk, bases-loaded walk. Tie game.

Throughout it all, the rest of the Nationals sat or stood helplessly, unable to do anything to save Treinen, Felipe Rivero and Drew Storen.

“It’s not easy,” Taylor said. “There’s not much you can do from center field in a situation like that.”

There was only thing more painful than watching that inning progress: Contemplating how Williams could summon any of them — but especially Storen — again Wednesday night or any night after that.

The second-year manager did what he could to have his pitchers’ backs.

“In the bad times, you need support,” Williams said. “And that’s part of my job. I’ve got confidence in every one of those guys in that room. Tonight wasn’t their night, but I’ve got confidence in them.”

That’s easier said than done, again especially in Storen’s case. It’s not like this was a one-time, out-of-nowhere occurrence. No, it felt like everything had built up over the last three years to this moment, the postseason blown saves, the temporary redemption, the sudden demotion to a lesser role after the acquisition of another closer and then this: a stadium full of irate fans booing him off the mound after the worst singular outing of his career.

“It is what it is, right?” Storen said. “It’s part of it. If you don’t do your job, they’re going to let it be known.”

Baseball players are trained to have short memories, none of them more so than relief pitchers. The grind of the season doesn’t allow for reflection mid-stream. There’s always another game to be played the next day. And the Nationals will play a game Wednesday night. And then three more over the weekend. And then three more weeks’ worth of games after that.

The question is: From where do they summon the fortitude to put this one behind them and move on?

“To the outside observer, it’s like: ‘Man, what have we got ourselves into?'” closer Jonathan Papelbon said. “For me personally — and I think I can speak for most of the guys in this clubhouse — we have to accept the challenge. Take it on and almost enjoy it and say: ‘Hey, this is the spot we’re in. Let’s do everything we can to get out of it.'”

  1. micksback1 - Sep 9, 2015 at 9:05 AM

    They6 won’t too gutless and passive and the worst manage in MLB

    talk about 2016

  2. micksback1 - Sep 9, 2015 at 9:12 AM

    Wonder if Rizzo will use the MASN monies as an excuse for not going after middle relief? Now they have spent or will spend 210 million on max…this team may become the 2012 Mets in 2016. Look at wjhat the Mets did from 2012. Mets were garbage, a Bernie Madoff scandal owner, worst team in MlB, now they are better than us. Nats may become a joke in no time

  3. alexva6 - Sep 9, 2015 at 9:20 AM

    if you’re asking me Mark, they don’t.

    for the sake of the players that have brought me a season of entertainment I hope a total collapse is not in the cards but I wouldn’t bet two cents on their chances. I cannot remember a more crushing defeat

  4. wmlsays - Sep 9, 2015 at 9:23 AM

    What difference does it make now? Rizzo has, once again, constructed a flawed team. For all the supposed talent finding prowess that he UNDOUBTEDLY possesses, he has been unable to assemble a team that can truly contend for anything more than perhaps a playoff appearance (or two). He doesn’t adjust well (when things need adjusting). He has strong views, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it isn’t working to the degree that many people wish it would. The Nats are a decent team. They’re nowhere near great. Lots of holes to fix. Rizzo has been unable to fix the holes well enough to build a true contender. His choice for a manager is perhaps not the best decision he has made. In short, the Lerners will probably keep Rizzo. So any pretension for greatness, as far as the team is concerned, is just that. It is a mirage, a fallacy, a dream. The reality is, the Nats are a middle of the pack team with some talent. In some years they are better, but they don’t have enough to be considered extraordinary. So enjoy the games. Wallow in the despair. It’s not about to change any time soon.

  5. Gene - Sep 9, 2015 at 9:26 AM

    I don’t see how they do. I think the Nationals need to be concerned about the long term as well. This is not the first time they have over promised and under delivered. Players like Bryce Harper need to understand that and stop calling out fans for leaving early. Comments like that are not going to help the long-term relationship between team and fans.

    • Nats Fan Zee - Sep 9, 2015 at 10:31 AM

      They have disconnected … in the past three years, I brought my son down to the right field line because about 80% of the time, someone came out and gave an autograph … even got JZimm the day before he pitched the no hitter last year. This year, not once, in over 20 games we attended did we see a player sign … not once.

      My boy asks why and I tell him perhaps they are told they can’t any longer or for security reasons. He is 12 and he does not buy it an neither do I. What the hell happened to this team?

      • Presidents Race Fan - Sep 9, 2015 at 10:58 AM

        Well I guess you don’t go to enough games, or don’t come early enough, because Harper was down there signing last week. Max has been down there. Desmond… I see it all the time.

      • Nats Fan Zee - Sep 9, 2015 at 1:46 PM

        If you are talking about the dugout, yes on occasion they still sign there. Problem is unless you have a ticket to that area, you can’t get to the dugout. I was talking abouth the area where the ball girl sits. We have a ball and 1/2 fully signed from there and not just the pitchers (although many are), Denard, Desi, Espi, MAT signed there last year to name a few. This year, nothing.

  6. Section 222 - Sep 9, 2015 at 9:28 AM

    How do they come back?

    MW: By taking it one day at a time. But putting last night behind them and going out and doing their work and playing the game tomorrow.

    Me: They don’t.

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Sep 9, 2015 at 9:38 AM

      One would hope that the Nats could rally like the Mets did after their devastating loss to the Pads a few weeks ago…

      Thing is, I don’t see that happening. More power to them for trying though…

      • Section 222 - Sep 9, 2015 at 10:17 AM

        Right. Trouble is the Nats have had several devastating losses recently, and haven’t rallied from any of them. I don’t see it happening either.

  7. Mrsb loves the Nats - Sep 9, 2015 at 9:34 AM

    They don’t.

    Looking forward to the many changes that need to be made in the off-season.

    • joemktg - Sep 9, 2015 at 10:39 AM


  8. derwink - Sep 9, 2015 at 9:55 AM

    I don’t get to watch a lot of the post-game comments by players and managers so I’m just asking:

    Is Matt Williams as monotone in his answers as his quotes sound?

    What I’m asking is there any “yeah!, let’s go get them” or “this team/player needs a verbal kick in the butt”?

    Or is it always “we’re professional” and “we’ll get them tomorrow”? No urgency? No emotion?

    Just asking. And I realize quotes to the press can/are different than his locker room management style.

    • wmlsays - Sep 9, 2015 at 9:57 AM

      He is as even as Jim Zorn.

    • sec112 - Sep 9, 2015 at 1:00 PM

      This is football fan thinking. That’s not how baseball works – particularly not today. Joe Torre never gave a Knute Rockne speech. Neither do any of the other successful baseball mangers. It’s not what works in baseball, which requires controlling emotion to be successful, not unleashing it on the other team.

      • wmlsays - Sep 9, 2015 at 1:50 PM

        What are you talking about? I said his demeanor is like Jim Zorn’s. Very even, not excitable. Whatever it is MW is doing, it’s not always successful. He is even keeled though in his pressers.

      • sec112 - Sep 9, 2015 at 2:33 PM

        Was referring to the Derwink comment. Fans – particularly football fans who dabble in baseball – want to see a manager get angry and yell at players, throw chairs, “kick ass”. It’s not how baseball works. There are things to complain about regarding Mattt Williams, but having an even keel in press conferences isn’t one of them.

  9. Joe Seamhead - Sep 9, 2015 at 9:55 AM

    (This is the ending paragraph I mistakenly put up on the last thread, but it sums up my thoughts this morning).

    Last night was a great mix of emotions for this old boy. The knockout of Matt Harvey, the LL grand slam,and watching the air go out of the Mets fans in attendance was all a blast. But then came the fateful inning from hell, and I watched another total failure by the bullpen.And don’t ask about how it was watching/listening to the understandable euphoria from the Mets fans.Like many others, I left with both a horrible taste in my mouth, and with a feeling of total resignation. But you know what? Despite the Nats not meeting the lofty expectations that they had going into the season, I have still had a great time watching them. Frustrating? Hell, yeah. Did I get angry with at times? Of course. (To tell you the truth, if you gave me an autographed Drew Storen jersey I would put in on a scarecrow in the cornfield in the back forty). But it’s a sports team. I watch them for entertainment. I feel sorry for folks that get so worked up with unending negativity over it.When they win I get a great high for a while, but when they lose I get over it by my next cup of coffee. Except for Game 5. Still working on getting that one out of my system.

    • Section 222 - Sep 9, 2015 at 10:36 AM

      Nicely put Joe. I’m very disappointed. Pissed even. But am I losing sleep over the Nats? Nah. The worst thing is the season will end early this year. That’s a bummer. The upside? A big refund on my credit card and lots of free nights in October that I wasn’t expecting.

      • Joe Seamhead - Sep 9, 2015 at 10:44 AM

        Assuming that the Nats don’t pull off a miracle, my dark horse team to make the playoffs was the Cubs and I am rooting for to upset a couple of teams in the playoffs!

      • JayB - Sep 9, 2015 at 10:49 AM

        I can agree with you and Joe on the cosmic standing of baseball and Nats in the universe….but within it’s proper place I think more than oh well that is how the cookie crumbs needs to be expressed and accounted for…..City put over half a billion into free park for Lerners……you and I and tens of thousands of others have spend 1000s of hours and dollars supporting the team…….for them to to do nothing to change a sinking ship is just not acceptable… the least people who make very good livings off our sports hobbies need to be accountable and lose their jobs for incompetence. Yes I do really believe that several people within the organization have demonstrated they have not earned the right to keep their jobs.

    • lowstrikes - Sep 9, 2015 at 10:41 AM

      Well said, Joe. I was in the stadium last night, and there was a point at which it was a really great game…had it all: annoying Mets fans, scoring early and often by the good guys, gutsy pitching, etc. Now, lost in the wretched stink – Escobar was a clutch 3 for 5 at the plate, Robinson hit 2 for 3, etc. Suddenly, I feel nostalgic. I enjoyed plenty of engaging baseball this season. But shame on me for wanting to believe in the teams ability to transcend the considerable challenges and deliver a championship. If I’m disappointed, it is because I chose the wrong evidence on which to focus, edited out the bits that didn’t fit my narrative. Storen really doesn’t step up. Treinan is not breaking through, Janssen…whatever. Note to self: actively ignore and and all blather about a post-season until mid-August, from now on, no more exceptions, starting now.

    • Serious Jammage - Sep 9, 2015 at 11:06 AM

      Well said, as usual. I am an optimist and man did last night suck. Game 5 was rougher given the stakes and the euphoria from Game 4, but watching Rendon try to bunt a 99mph fastball with a 3-1 count and the tying run on was one of the more painful sports-watching moments I’ve had.

      Also, my wife kindly reminded me while we were watching the 7th-9th innings that “this is just like the playoff game we blew!”

      Yes, honey… It is…

    • rmoore446 - Sep 9, 2015 at 11:52 AM

      Joe, this is one of your best posts and I completely agree. Disappointed, yes, but I’ve stopped living and dying with sports teams to the point it cast a shadow in my life. I loved being at Monday’s game with my two oldest grandsons and, while our team lost, it a time we will always treasure. The Lemonade was great on a hot day and the 7-year-old loved one of those soft pretzels shaped in a W. And they got to see their first grand slam.

      I doubt they can bounce back to compete this season but I will be pulling for them every game.

  10. tcostant - Sep 9, 2015 at 9:59 AM

    I figured it would be better in the morning, I was wrong!

  11. Eugene in Oregon - Sep 9, 2015 at 10:01 AM

    From six games back with 24 to play> If they can’t hold onto a six-run lead against Matt Harvey? After demonstrating in four recent games that no lead is safe against a good team? I’m an optimist, but I’m also realistic. The Nats had needed to take at least two of the three games against the Mets to have any sort of chance — and even then it would have been a stretch. At this point, I don’t see any path to the playoffs. None.

  12. JayB - Sep 9, 2015 at 10:01 AM

    Really not much reason to be optimistic about changes in the off season given Rizzo does not see any problem with the present other than it will all fix it self with enough sample size…….Drew just needs another 10 years of data right?

    • alexva6 - Sep 9, 2015 at 11:06 AM

      you have no idea what Rizzo is thinking or planning.

      you equate what he says publicly to what he does and that is ridiculous.

      if a move is not made you automatically assume he made no attempt to get it done.

  13. golfersal - Sep 9, 2015 at 10:21 AM

    The answer to your question on how the Nats come back is simple.

    They don’t. They are like a deer that got hit at 60mph and the best thing anyone can do for the deer (Nats) is put the poor beast out of his (and ours) misery.

  14. chaz11963 - Sep 9, 2015 at 10:24 AM

    There will be a lot of changes in the offseason. Likely almost 1/3 of the 25 man roster will be gone, and most certainly the bullpen will be revamped. So many expectations for this season; one of the biggest disappointments in baseball. I am happy for Clint, Danny, MAT, and Bryce (despite the childish comment about Nats fans); they all had good seasons.

    • sec112 - Sep 9, 2015 at 1:10 PM

      Don’t forget Joe Cool

  15. JayB - Sep 9, 2015 at 10:31 AM

    Uggla just needs more consistent ABs…..Rizzo is just too stubborn to be a good GM….I am a huge fan of his and an so grateful he got us this far but it really may be time to cut our loses and find a GM and Team President that is more pragmatic and proactive…..offer Rizzo the moon to stay and be asst GM again….I do not think any big money team would give him that much money or title after this mess.

  16. joemktg - Sep 9, 2015 at 10:45 AM

    How do you “come back from this one?”

    Come back to what? A division title? That’s done.

    At this point, I don’t know what you come back to.

    You are your record.

  17. sunshinebobby - Sep 9, 2015 at 10:49 AM

    Half this team, the manager and perhaps the GM all go after this season. I figure the Lerners ask Rizzo to fire MW, he refuses and resigns as well (perhaps thinking he can land another GM job). JZimm, Fister, Desmond, Span, Storen, Uggla (YAY!), half the bullpen (YAY!) all leave, or are not asked back.

    Priorities for 2016: new GM and manager, new bullpen (save Pap) new attitude, mental toughness, managerial flexibility, new catcher (or two), and a willingness by the Lerners to accept 2 million attendance instead of 2.8.

    The window is closing, or was slammed closed last night. Stras goes after 2017, Harper after 2018.

    I’m mentally ready for a return of the 1950s-60s eras Senators, .440-type clubs who weren’t competitive after April 15.

    It may turn out that Game 5 was the franchise high point.

    Pass the aspirin. What time do the liquor stores open?

    • micksback1 - Sep 9, 2015 at 10:57 AM

      I think you may be right, unfortunately.
      Let me add, McCatty needs to go more than anyone else. How do you not know your own pitchers mindset after a number of seasons and games. Unless its MW who over rides McCatty. if that is the case, what other evidence would one need that MW is an absolute STOOGE!!!

      If Max is tired, if Ross is worn down this goes back to coaching period! After Drew;’s first few pitches, it was clear he was a basket case to EVERYONE except STOOGE Williams

    • Karl Kolchak - Sep 9, 2015 at 11:58 AM

      Stras goes after 2016, actually. So does Ramos.

      • Dave - Sep 9, 2015 at 2:12 PM

        Isn’t it 2017 because they waited to bring him up? Or am I confusing that with an arbitration year?

      • Karl Kolchak - Sep 9, 2015 at 2:31 PM

        Stras was on the active roster for five years from 2011-2015. Including his 2010 call up he has about 5.5 years of service. One more year and he is a free agent.

  18. moozystar - Sep 9, 2015 at 10:52 AM

    The answer is simple, they can brush themselves off and play like their lives depend on it today! I will be in my seats cheering (never booing our home team, I’ll leave that for the NY crowd) and when we get to the 7th inning, if we blow it, I will go home and get to bed early. Sorry Bryce, I’m not trying to crush you but you have crushed me too many times this season, I need my sleep.

    If the bullpen had held half of the leads they blew this season we would be in first place. Seems to me that the solution for next year is pretty obvious.

  19. Reverendp - Sep 9, 2015 at 11:19 AM

    You may very well get your wish.

  20. Whack-A-Mule - Sep 9, 2015 at 12:12 PM

    The off-season reconstruction will be neither simple nor effortless.

    Must-haves (overlap with “should-have-hads” in 2015):

    – 1st baseman defensively & offensively equivalent to Ryan Z.
    – Left fielder defensively & offensively superior to Jayson W.
    (No one should have been surprised that each of these players
    missed a major chunk of the season from injury. Back-ups should
    have been in place before April 1st.
    (Robinson is a bench player and sometime starter; not a 60-80 game replacement for
    injured Ryan Z. There was never a coherent plan in place for the outfield, apparently.)

    The baseball axiom “Injured players get injured” will be as true in 2016 as it was in 2015.

    – A proven and experienced (successful) bullpen staff. Stammen & Storen ( + Thornton)
    without depth was insufficient, particularly given the absence of Stammen, subsequent
    performance of Storen, and no contingency planning. Papelbon addition was a step
    towards goodness, but a random assortment of AAA & AA players does not a bullpen make.

    So . . .
    does that make next year a “rebuilding year” ?
    (Oh, dear ! )

  21. robertrobert104 - Sep 9, 2015 at 12:44 PM

    Well, they don’t. That’s simple as that. What we saw yesterday was a total failure of what was supposed to be this team. Yes, they had injured players, so the Cards by the way. The difference? better depth. As far this year, we saw a-bad defense b-bad pitching c-bench players playing way too often d-players not ready for the majors and e-worst manager ever! Last night, it was obvious that Storen was shitting in his pants, but the clown MW didn’t do a thing. Yes, I know, bullpen was short, lots of AAA players on it, so what? Make a decision! That’s why you’re there! Geeez. As Harper said: that was brutal….

  22. natfan33 - Sep 9, 2015 at 1:04 PM

    Reading everything above leads me to the conclusion that possibly we are losing to a better team? The Mets are better. End of story.

    • sec112 - Sep 9, 2015 at 1:30 PM

      Sad, but likely true. They have serious issues with their pitchers, and their hitting is streaky and can be neutralized by good pitching (which they have faced little of recently). They stand little chance against any of the other playoff teams. But the Nats have many of the same problems – just slightly worse.





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.

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