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A lost season made official

Sep 26, 2015, 10:12 PM EST

Photo by USA Today

For weeks, the Nationals knew this day would come. They knew their inevitable fate of being eliminated from the playoff race was going to happen, one way or another.

There were nights when it seemed like it was already over, then the window would open and a glimmer of light would shine through. There were many opportunities over the last few weeks to put pressure on the first place New York Mets. But each time the game of baseball reminded them that preseason expectations, no matter how valid in their reasoning, mean nothing when it’s all said and done.

The Nationals season breathed its last breath on Saturday night. The fact they walked off the Phillies an hour later in the drizzling rain on South Capitol St. became an ironic afterthought. It was all over and it ended way earlier than anyone had planned.

“I never thought we’d end up here,” Jayson Werth said. “Obviously, we’ve underachieved. We haven’t played well. We’ve done a lot of things that got us here. But I would’ve never guessed that. I would’ve never thought we’d be sitting here having this conversation with seven or eight games left. Would’ve bet the other way.”

Both the Mets and Nationals celebrated on Saturday night. The Mets had a champagne shower in the visitors clubhouse in Cincinnati. The Nats rushed the field in Washington to pour chocolate sauce and other liquids on Bryce Harper, who hit a walk-off double to seal the victory.

But the Nationals will have plenty to think about once the dust settles on this day. Chances to win a World Series do not come around often and with the way this roster was constructed – many players were retained who are set for free agency this winter – this was as good an opportunity as many members of the Nationals will ever get.

That fact is not lost on the Nationals, who know the team could be a much different group on Opening Day 2016.

“I think I said that in February that this could be the last run of this core group of guys. It’s got a chance to be drastically different next year, so that’s tough,” Werth said. “This is my fifth year here. Played with these guys, get to know these guys, go to work with these guys every year. You’re basically family.”

“We had the pieces in place to have a special season. It didn’t happen,” Casey Janssen said. “It’s kind of a season with a lot of what ifs. I think on a personal level, I underachieved a little bit. I think a lot of people would have a similar statement. We dealt with a lot of injuries, but the bottom line is we didn’t get it done.”

“Sometimes this game isn’t fair,” Stephen Strasburg said. “Every single one of these guys competed all year. We dealt with some adversity, but we battled through it. That’s all you can do. It just didn’t work out this year.”

The reasons for why the Nationals will not be playing in the postseason are numerous. They had an inordinate amount of injuries in the first half of the season. Then, they got healthy and it took time for players like Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon to get their timing back at the plate. The indispensable Denard Span appeared in only 61 games before being lost for the year.

There were mistakes made by their manager Matt Williams that are well-documented. His use of the bullpen came into question on many nights and some could argue his steadfast approach of not looking at the big picture, not seeing bad losses for what they were, held him and his team back from learning from their missteps.

The rotation was nowhere near what it was supposed to be. The Nationals had the best starters ERA in 2014 and then signed former Cy Young-winner Max Scherzer. It was predicted to be a historically dominant group. But Strasburg was held back by injuries in the early months, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez were inconsistent, and Doug Fister had the worst season of his career. Even Scherzer failed on several occasions when they needed him.

The bullpen was the team’s weakest link for much of the season. They couldn’t overcome the departure of Tyler Clippard and the early loss of Craig Stammen. After trading for closer Jonathan Papelbon, Drew Storen – who had pitched at an All-Star level in the first half – became their biggest liability.

Young, promising arms came up only to show their inexperience. Guys like Aaron Barrett and Blake Treinen did not progress like the front office projected they would.

Janssen was signed to be the team’s setup man, to bring a veteran presence to the back of the Nats’ bullpen. He did not have the season he was supposed to have, either, and knows things could have been different if the bullpen was better as a collective group.

“I think any good team, it starts on the mound. It starts with starting pitching. And if the starters are working deep into games it gives the bullpen a little rest every once in a while. [After the All-Star break], we were in a lot of tight games. We were using a lot of guys every night. We started to struggle as a group and we couldn’t stop the bad snowball. It just happened to be at a time in our season when were counted on greatly. At the end of the day, as a team you can look at everything, but I think for us as a bullpen we probably circle that time of the season where had we performed better we definitely wouldn’t have been eliminated today. It might have changed things.”

The Nationals have eight games remaining on their schedule, eight meaningless games that include three at the New York Mets before they call it a year. Williams, for one, is not ready to reflect on what went wrong until the season is actually over.

“We got games to play. Can’t do that. We gotta to win tomorrow. I mean we’re here. We have to play games. We’ve got some remaining. We want to play well in those games. After the fact, we’ll have a chance to look back at it,” he said.

Williams was asked if he addressed his team after the game, knowing their season was essentially over. He hadn’t.

“I haven’t spoken to them yet. You’re going to have to ask them what they feel. I can tell you this, we’re trying to win and the game that we’re playing is most important.”

Many Nats players were indeed asked how they felt and Harper, for one, has already come to terms with what will ultimately be looked at as a lost season.

“It’s just baseball. It’s just a game you play. There’s a lot of things in life that are bigger than just baseball. We’ll all come back in tomorrow and play this game,” he said. “I think, the next couple days – the next week or so – a lot of these guys won’t be in this clubhouse anymore. So, we’re gonna try to enjoy this as a team and just really have some fun and play hard and see where we’re at.”

All that is left to play for is pride and statistics. Then, on the night of Oct. 4 in New York, an offseason that could bring momentous change to the organization will finally begin.

  1. wmlsays - Sep 26, 2015 at 10:22 PM

    It is what it is. A season of disappointments. A mangled management team lead by Mike Rizzo, who once again failed to find the winning formula.

  2. natsfan1a - Sep 26, 2015 at 11:40 PM

    Bryce is right. It’s just a game. And they’re all meaningless, in the bigger picture. I had fun at the game today, so there’s that.

    On another note, good piece on Knorr and how the team rallied around him:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/nationals/nationals-organization-rallies-around-randy-knorr-after-his-wifes-death/2015/09/25/cde0db1e-6150-11e5-b38e-06883aacba64_story.html

  3. Section 222 - Sep 27, 2015 at 12:03 AM

    Good summary of all the reasons this year didn’t turn out the way we hoped. They’ll survive and so will we. But we’ll always look back at what could have been. It may be many years before we have such a strong team on paper to root for.

    I’m glad it was over before the last weekend. Watching the Mets clinch against us would have been tough to take.

    • NatsNut - Sep 27, 2015 at 9:34 AM

      Too funny, Sofa!

  4. robertrobert104 - Sep 27, 2015 at 6:33 AM

    Take out Harper and the Nats are a third ou fourth place team in the devision! So yes the Nats are a bad team. Now that the era of what was supposed to be a winning team is over, it will be interesting to see if Matt Williams ( a very bad manager btw) will play the younger players on the team, as they will be on the field next year and need some playing time. Otherwise, next year will be the same as this year….

  5. ArVAFan - Sep 27, 2015 at 7:28 AM

    What made the season worth watching (YMMV):

    5. The emergence of Michael A. Taylor as a legitimate ML level player.*
    4. The (re)-emergence of Danny Espinosa as a useful utility player.*
    3. Joe “Cool” Ross looking like a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.*
    2. Scherzer’s first half, Strasberg’s second half.*
    1. Bryce Harper.*

    *Also makes it worth looking forward to next year. 145 days to P & C, by my count.

    • Nats Fan Zee - Sep 27, 2015 at 8:49 AM

      I dislike that Joe Cool nickname some have tagged him with. When he came here, it was Ross the Boss (since his high school days) but some Snoopy fan though better. I’ve dropped it from the lexicon and wish everyone else would.

      • Dave - Sep 27, 2015 at 9:34 AM

        Maybe because we had a couple pitchers named Ross (Detwiler and Ohlendorf), and folks often used that “Ross the Boss” thing with them. It’s okay to get a new nickname when you come up to the Show.

  6. 3on2out - Sep 27, 2015 at 7:32 AM

    Sincere thanks to Mark and Chase. They posted quickly and professionally. They provided thoughtful insights and observations and never got caught up in hysteria and overreaction like many of us. This has been, generally, a wonderful sounding board for the Nats many hard-cores and die-hards. Mark did a great job of culling some of the more annoying trolls. I wish all the regulars and not-so-regulars, posters and readers alike, a happy, healthy and prosperous off-season. May we return in the spring renewed and refreshed and ready to pursue our passion for the Nationals into their twelfth year in DC. Hope springs eternal, I suppose. I have found 3 new Season Ticket partners to replace the ones I lost as result of the obscene 36% cost increase for next year…imposed just as the Nats began their death spiral. So we’ll be back. Bloodied and chastened but back. Go Nats!

    • wskyrnr21 - Sep 27, 2015 at 8:20 AM

      Are your newest ticket holders blind or do they just like throwing their money away?

      • Dave - Sep 27, 2015 at 9:29 AM

        You haven’t been doing this Nats fan thing very long, have you? I have partners who are still with me from 2008.

        Or maybe you’re not a Nats fan at all; possible, I guess.

    • natsfan1a - Sep 27, 2015 at 8:29 AM

      Thanks, 3on, and I wish the same to you. My season’s not done yet, though, as I have two more games to attend.

    • ArVAFan - Sep 27, 2015 at 9:24 AM

      Although I do have to wonder about this post from last nights game post:

      “7:40 p.m. — Nats lose, here is the instant analysis: http://natsinsider.com/2015/09/26/nats-2-phillies-1-nats-eliminated-from-playoffs-despite-walk-off-win/

      at 7:40 the game was still tied. I guess the “Nats lose” refers to the season, rather than the game.

    • Joe Seamhead - Sep 27, 2015 at 9:29 AM

      Thanks for a nice, positive post, 3on2out. My hat is also off to Mark Z for working hard to keep us informed and for cleaning out a lot dirty laundry that was building up in here. Now, if we could get either an edit button, or at least a delete function.

  7. ArVAFan - Sep 27, 2015 at 7:40 AM

    And a reminder that for us, and for the players, it may be “just a game,” but for these kids, the Youth Baseball Academy is a lot more than that:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/27/sports/baseball/washington-nationals-use-baseball-as-a-beacon-of-hope-at-youth-academy.html?emc=edit_th_20150927&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=71371742

    Even if you don’t read the whole article, scroll down to see the fence that Max built.

    • natsrule - Sep 27, 2015 at 9:52 AM

      Good morning nats fans on this sad end of season day. I am a new poster and I figure what better time to jump into the fray as we turn the page on the lost season of 2015. I found it interesting and ironic that the very fine story on the Nats Academy referenced by ArVAFan is the lead story on the front page of the New York Times sports section on the same day the Mets clinched the NL East. The Mets story is buried on page 3.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 27, 2015 at 11:37 AM

        Thanks, and welcome, natsrule.

    • dcsnakehead - Sep 27, 2015 at 9:58 AM

      Great article. Long term the Nats needs to diversify the fan base and this is a great start.

  8. kkpp3 - Sep 27, 2015 at 10:15 AM

    I just read Svrluga’s WP article. I think Willaims should go for the reasons discussed on this blog, but these anonymous comments strike me as scape-goating by players who know they should have played better. It would not surprise me if Werth was a key source.

    • NatsLady - Sep 27, 2015 at 10:23 AM

      I had the exact same feeling, except I doubt the source is Werth. I never got the feeling Werth likes talking to reporters. A lot of blame to throw around. I have less unfavorable feelings than a lot of people about Williams.

  9. JayB - Sep 27, 2015 at 10:32 AM

    Rizzo is responsible for the team….can not have it both ways…..either the players do not like MW and that caused a major problem or the Players suck either way Rizzo is responsible for the make up of the team and he had time money and draft picks like no other GM out there….and he produced this mess.

    • naterialguy - Sep 27, 2015 at 10:49 AM

      Sometimes Jayb you remind me of the old city paper comic, the angriest dog in the world. Lol

  10. bigcat492 - Sep 27, 2015 at 10:58 AM

    Just a few seasons ago we were losing 100 games a year. We were the laughing stock in baseball. I personally think Rizzo is a great evaluater of talent as well as character and has done an outstanding job in cleaning up Bowdens mess. I know if the Nats cut him loose, he would be snapped up in a second by another team.

  11. bigcat492 - Sep 27, 2015 at 11:03 AM

    He’s got his work cut out for him this winter. I was talking with Manassas Nats fan about what he would do in the off season if he were Riz and he simply said “Buy out Werth, resign JZimm and sign Cespedes.” I started thinking about it and thats a pretty simple formula, presuming JZimm even wants to stay here

    • NatsLady - Sep 27, 2015 at 11:30 AM

      I wouldn’t sign Cespedes. Bad vibes, not a team player, streaky. I would vote for JZimm and he didn’t close the door, so you never know.

  12. JayB - Sep 27, 2015 at 11:06 AM

    They would not make him a GM that is for sure

  13. JayB - Sep 27, 2015 at 11:08 AM

    They would not let him hire the Manager double for sure

  14. bigcat492 - Sep 27, 2015 at 11:17 AM

    Who would you bring in JayB to be GM? Manager?

  15. NatsLady - Sep 27, 2015 at 11:28 AM

    I see Desi is playing. The only thing I can figure is they are playing it safe, in other words, let’s not have Trea Turner tear something that would take a year to heal. Of course, he could do that pinch hitting or pinch running, so go figure.

    • trfwans - Sep 27, 2015 at 11:42 AM

      It’s the last real home game this season. No one will be there tomorrow. Hopefully MW is starting Desmond so he can pull him mid-inning and let him get a big ovation from the fans. An ovation he deserves not for this season but for his entire Nats career. But the way MW operates, he’ll probably just pinch hit for him so fans will never get the chance to cheer as he leaves the field.

  16. bigcat492 - Sep 27, 2015 at 11:35 AM

    Disagree Nats Lady. Desi playing cause Williams is an idiot. Desi is one of the poster childs in this miserable season. He should of been benched months ago. Williams is just a big dummy

  17. Whack-A-Mule - Sep 27, 2015 at 11:40 AM

    The Hot Stove League is off to an early start, I see.

    I, myself, do not think the achieving of a championship-level team from the current position will be simple or easy.
    We do have a core of fine players (Harper, Scherzer, Strasburg, Rendon ), very good players (Escobar, Espinosa, Gonzales, Papelbon) and injured players (e.g. Span, Stammen, Storen who may or may not recover to previous playing levels) and some promising young players (e.g. Turner, MA Taylor) around whom we may build.

    – MUST-MUST-MUST have both defensive and offensive upgrading at both shortstop and catcher.
    – MUST-MUST-MUST have an experienced starting center-fielder (so that MA Taylor can assume his proper role as 4th outfielder and learn-on-the-job; 152 K’s in 451 AB’s is appalling-Desmond 2.0 in the making).
    – MUST obtain a clean-up bat to protect Harper; Ryan Zimmerman will likley only play 90-100 games in 2016
    (injured players get injured) and Werth is not a 4-hole hitter.
    – MUST rebuild bullpen from ground up. Right now the bullpen consists of Papelbon. Period. Row-Ark is a ‘tweener, and not particularly good as either a starter or reliever. While that may change in 2016, there is no guarantee that Stammen will pitch to his previous levels after a grievous injury and surgery. No one else in pen is ready for Prime Time (let alone playoffs). Storen is a big ” ? ”

    This off-season is not for tweaking, not for fine-tuning.
    As the old song goes: “They’ll be some changes made.”

    • natsguy - Sep 27, 2015 at 12:23 PM

      Span’s deal runs out. He won’t be here next year. Storen will get traded and maybe Excobar. Espinosa is a .225/.230 utility infielder. Gio is a bottom of the rotation pitcher at best. The real upgrade they need to make is at catcher. Cannot tolerate another year of bad defensive catching if he is only going to hit .240 or less. Ramos is a definite liability in the field. Bad pitch caller, bad framer, makes bad decisions, and cannot catch balls at the plate.

  18. Candide - Sep 27, 2015 at 11:46 AM

    I’m finding this business about clubhouse dissension to be kind of amusing, in a grim sort of way. Because I know a lot of the posters here remember the days of the Yankees’ “Bronx Zoo,” with the likes of Billy Martin almost getting into a fistfight with Reggie Jackson right there in the dugout on national TV, Jackson dissing Thurman Munson with his comment that he (Jackson) was “the straw that stirs the drink,” while Munson “can only stir it bad,” and on another occasion, Munson publicly calling Jackson “a (bleeping) liar.” Sparky Lyle won the Cy Young Award and yet the Yanks still went out and got Goose Gossage to be their closer the following year, which should sound sorta familiar to Nats fans.

    Everyone in that clubhouse seemed to hate someone or everyone, and the only thing they agreed on was that they all hated George Steinbrenner.

    Good times, good times…

    And yet, they went to the World series three straight years, 1976-78, winning the last two.

    So maybe what the Nats need is a meddling owner like Steinbrenner (maybe our pointy-ball team could recommend someone, hmm?) and instead of solid, stolid, team-first-last-and-always players like Ryan Zimmerman, a few uber-talented prima donnas who don’t give a pinch of owl snot about what anyone thinks of them, and a hotheaded alcoholic manager who, were it not for baseball, would probably be doing twenty-to-life.

  19. JayB - Sep 27, 2015 at 11:55 AM

    Nats have only one future hall of famer and no other even all stars….Those yankee teams had real talent and players who loved to perform under pressure….Nats….only Harp

    • harperletsgo - Sep 27, 2015 at 5:01 PM

      Strasburg is going to be in the HoF.

  20. JayB - Sep 27, 2015 at 12:00 PM

    GM…I would keep Rizzo IF….he can provide a list of what he would change this off season after a honest review of what went wrong…..If he says….just a bad year and MW did his best….he is gone.

    Manager….I have said for months that MW as a problem and he should go ASAP so we could get a look at Knoor.

    I think Knoor has the clubhouse support so it would have been much better this year….but Rizzo is just too stuborn to admit it.

    Now I think you have an open interview process where you are looking for track records of successful managing in game and personalities. There are more than 30 good managers in the world….No reason to keep MW who at best is bad.

  21. bigcat492 - Sep 27, 2015 at 12:34 PM

    I think B Svrluga’s article is the last nail in Williams coffin.

    “Players who love to perform under pressure”…….bingo…..give that man a cigar. The last 2 post seasons for the nats exposed a whole host of characters who gag when the lights are bright. Storen, Gio, Ramos, Desi, Werth(and then hide in trainers room)Espi. Remember when that Giants pitcher made the comment about nats don’t have what it takes between their legs? He was right. Candice is right in my opinion about locker room chemistry being over rated. Yankees a great example. you could even go further back to the Battling A’s of early 70’s Gene Tenace, Joe Rudi, Reggie, Bill North, Campy. Fingers, Catfish. The list is long. There were fist fights in the locker room. Open bickering with the manager and owner Finley. But when the lights were bright they all “came to play.” I don’t think its really something you can teach. You got it or you don’t and a lot of this bunch ain’t got and never will have it.

    I would love to see Knoor manage next year. Think he would be a good fit. Christsakes…..the UPS driver would be better than Big Dumb Marine

  22. harperletsgo - Sep 27, 2015 at 5:02 PM

    MW is way to reactionary. It should be over.

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