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Ugly incident speaks to organization-wide problems

Sep 28, 2015, 1:19 AM EDT

AP

Had Sunday afternoon’s dugout fracas at Nationals Park been a purely isolated incident, it might be easy to shrug it off as one of those unfortunate things that happens every once in awhile in sports. Teammates get into a heated argument, one goes after the other, everybody else rushes in to break it up. This certainly wasn’t the first time that scene has played out, whether in public or private view.

Trouble is, this wasn’t isolated. In hindsight, it kind of feels like it had been brewing for awhile. And worse, the manner in which it was handled — both at that moment and then throughout the rest of the evening — spoke to an even larger problem: The Nationals as an organization are out of touch with reality.

Everyone’s at fault here. Of course it begins with Jonathan Papelbon, who was completely out of bounds in confronting Bryce Harper about a perceived lack of hustle and then in physically attacking his teammate. But it also extends to the Nationals’ clubhouse as a whole lacking in a leader, someone who already would have set a tone for how things should be done.

And then it moves on to Matt Williams, who clearly has to know he’s fighting for his job at this point yet has failed through both his words and actions to display the kind of leadership qualities that would give the front office valid reason to retain him.

But it doesn’t stop there. Keep climbing up the ladder to Mike Rizzo, who made the trade for Papelbon despite obvious red flags that gave just about every outside observer reason to question the deal, and who has too often prioritized individual talent over roster cohesion while building his ballclub.

And then take that final step up to the top, to an ownership group that despite learning many things in its near-decade at the helm still comes across as tone-deaf in matters of both major and minor significance.

Maybe the best word to describe it all is this: Arrogance.

The Nationals have accomplished great things over the last four years. Say what you want about the disappointment of missing the playoffs in both 2013 and 2015, but what qualifies as disappointment around here is 83-to-86 wins. That’s markedly better than any of the franchise’s first six seasons in the District, when the mere notion of a winning record was cause for celebration.

Yet this organization, from top to bottom, too often acts like it has accomplished far more than it really has. The Nationals fly the largest division championship banner in baseball, high above the scoreboard in right-center field. (The 2012 NL East champions banner still resided up there throughout the 2014 season, long after they had ceded the title to the Braves.) They boast no fewer than three highly visible reminders to the world that they’ll be hosting the 2018 All-Star Game, an event that won’t take place for another 34 months. They spent the entire first half of this season playing intentionally annoying slow-jams over the PA system when the opposing team took batting practice, for no reason other than to thumb their noses at the rest of the league. They continue to show replay after replay after replay of Jayson Werth’s walk-off homer in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS — an admittedly wonderful baseball moment — while completely ignoring what happened only 24 hours later to render that moment a mere footnote.

Rizzo has a sterling track record as a front-office exec, and he single-handedly is responsible more than anybody else for turning a 100-loss joke of an organization into one of baseball’s most-competitive franchises. But he also has let ego get in the way of sound baseball decisions at times, whether in trading away Jerry Blevins for taking the club to arbitration over a $200,000 difference in salaries, in assuming a roster of productive-but-oft-injured veterans would somehow be able to stay in one piece all season or in ignoring the domino effects of acquiring big-name players who would bump popular rank-and-file guys from their roles. Yes, the additions of Max Scherzer, Rafael Soriano, Edwin Jackson and Papelbon made the Nationals’ roster stronger, but what ended up happening to Tanner Roark, John Lannan and Drew Storen (twice) as a result? What message did any of those moves send to the rest of the clubhouse?

Williams, meanwhile, has attempted to maintain a veneer of steadiness throughout his tenure as manager. He refuses to look back, look ahead or put any situation into a larger context. But it’s impossible to do that in reality. Every individual situation fits somehow into the bigger picture. What happened last night does impact what happens tonight and tomorrow. Some wins are bigger than others. Some losses most definitely are worse than others. And a manager has to be able to convey that, to recognize that sometimes you bring in your “eighth-inning guy” to pitch the seventh, that it’s OK (actually, it’s necessary) to acknowledge when you’ve been eliminated from the pennant race and admit how disappointing that is to you.

And above all else, a manager has to understand that when your closer physically attacks a teammate in the dugout, he simply can’t be allowed to take the mound again the next half-inning. No matter the score. No matter how many games back you are. No matter how much of the incident you actually saw with your own eyes or not. If Williams truly didn’t see the full extent of Sunday’s incident, he has no excuse for not getting a full and immediate report from one of his coaches (several were right in the thick of it, separating Papelbon and Harper).

If these last few weeks served as an opportunity for Williams to prove himself worthy of the job, to prove himself the kind of leader Rizzo has believed for more than a decade he would be, he hasn’t come close to making the most of it.

As for Papelbon … well, the short-term answer should be simple. He needs to drop his appeal of his 3-game, MLB-imposed suspension for intentionally throwing at Manny Machado’s head. Now. And then he needs to not appear in any of the Nationals’ four other remaining games this season.

The long-term answer isn’t nearly as simple. The Nationals already were facing a major bullpen overhaul this winter before this incident. Now they have no choice but to consider dumping Papelbon, who is under contract for 2016 and owed $11 million. Trouble is, he still has the same no-trade clause that made it difficult for the Phillies to deal him in the first place. His value obviously has diminished. And $11 million is a whole lotta money to flush down the toilet.

Yet how do the Nationals move forward with Papelbon as part of the equation? Can they really expect to make another run in 2016 with him holding a prominent position, carrying this kind of baggage?

Here may lie the ultimate test of the organization’s aforementioned arrogance. Can Rizzo, Ted Lerner and Co. admit the colossal mistake they made this summer, no matter how much it stings their pride and their bank account?

If so, perhaps it will serve as the first evidence of a franchise truly committed to changing how it operates. No more arrogance. No more bragging. No more inviting derision from the rest of the baseball world.

It’s time for the Nationals to admit they have not accomplished great things yet. They’ve taken plenty of big steps over the last decade. But they haven’t taken the final step. And until they do, they’re just another franchise trying to join the big boys’ club, required to show some much-needed humility for once.

147 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. jskurtzke - Sep 28, 2015 at 3:20 AM

    Well said, Mark

    • natsnat - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:16 AM

      Why doesn’t anyone listen to the players. Clearly they want an ugly incident to just go away but all the idiots in Washington media think their job is as important as breaking the next Watergate. No the media didn’t start this story.. The players did. But 4 blog posts in 24 hours really gets English majors excited.

      • stoatva - Sep 28, 2015 at 11:52 AM

        That’s some Redskins thinking there. “Pretend everything’s okay. We got some bad breaks and with a few tweaks we’ll win the SuperBowl.”

  2. naterialguy - Sep 28, 2015 at 4:22 AM

    And speaking off leadership when it’s needed, where the neck have you been! !!;-)

  3. TimDz - Sep 28, 2015 at 5:16 AM

    +162

  4. Joe Seamhead - Sep 28, 2015 at 5:52 AM

    Great column,Mark. Too bad how on point on it actually is. Mike Rizzo needs to suspend Papelbon.

  5. alexva6 - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:05 AM

    wow, I guess yesterday was transformational for a lot of us.

    the next few days will be very interesting, hopefully.

    • NatsLady - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:40 AM

      It was for me, anyway. When you have disturbed a fan as loyal, placid, and patient as I am you have really stirred up the mud.

    • natsfan1a - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:47 AM

      I’ve not been one to call for someone’s head, but as I mused about my game-day clothing for today, I found myself wishing I had a “Papelbon must go” t-shirt that I could sport. I suppose I *could* make my own. Eh. I don’t want to deface a perfectly good t-shirt. Humph.

  6. Another_Sam - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:12 AM

    IMHO the gotta do more than consider dumping Pap.

  7. sunshinebobby - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:14 AM

    Way to go, MarkMeister!!! You speak the truth to power. The arrogance of this organization is only outdone by its ability to be completely tone deaf–from the raising of season ticket prices in the midst of a disastrous season to trades that made no sense to the hiring of Williams.

    We need a completely new face on this franchise:

    Cal Ripken in 2016.

    • natsfan1a - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:19 AM

      Agreed on the new face, but I personally would not want another dude who has not managed in the bigs.

      • natsfan1a - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:21 AM

        As well, I’m not saying that Williams doesn’t have issues, but they need more than a managerial change, imo. If you’re going to do that, take the time to do a thorough, considered search and make the best possible decision, not a knee-jerk band-aid. (Knee-jerk band-aid? Garcon, more coffee, please.)

    • natslive - Sep 28, 2015 at 5:46 PM

      Just say no to Cal

  8. Mrsb loves the Nats - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:15 AM

    Heckuva column and write Mark Z…. heckuva job.

  9. robertrobert104 - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:16 AM

    Finally, it is written! An organization totally lost: a team with no leader (as fans points out months ago), a manager unable to take decisions on the spot, players who think more of their belly button than the team, a gm who was not able to get some relievers capable of doing the job, and finally, the complete meltdown of a team who now hates each other, who blame the other player because they can’t look at themselves. Wow, this team is just f—– up (sorry for the language). Now the Nats have to let play the younger players because they will be on the team next year, otherwise, next year will just be another year lost….

  10. natsfan1a - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:18 AM

    I would be inclined to say “hubris” rather than arrogance, but good article. Perhaps it’s overcompensation for all the years of being a baseball laughingstock. Whatever, first things first. Show Papelbon the door.

    • NatsNut - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:21 AM

      Agreed.

    • hweiner3 - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:25 AM

      DFA for Papelbon and a change in the management team, including Rizzo.

  11. exposedindc - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:36 AM

    Absolutely some of your best work Mark and 100% on point.

  12. JayB - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:38 AM

    Mark Says…..spoke to an even larger problem: The Nationals as an organization are out of touch with reality.

    Finally……has it really that hard to see until now?

    • Dave - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:55 AM

      JayB, can you really not refrain from gloating about how right you are and how wrong the rest of the world is, for one day?

      We are really all very tired of your repeated refrain.

      • Section 222 - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:34 AM

        Ah come on. Give the guy a victory lap for once. It doesn’t happen that often. 🙂

  13. Nats Fan Zee - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:40 AM

    Well said Mark. Papplebon on needs to go at any cost even if it’s an 11 million dollar loss it will pay dividends down the road with both players and fans.

    Ironic that the Nats showcased Papplebon and his family for a 50k donation to the leukemia foundation before the game and it ends this way.

    • janebeard - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:42 AM

      NOT ironic at all! AS THAT WAS HAPPENING, I said to my husband, “Now he’ll be even more puffed up and feel invincible. Let’s see who he plunks today.” Never dreaming it would be our own guy. AND how about the current ACTUAL Nats who donate big bucks ALL THE TIME and never stand on the field to be praised for it?

      • Nats Fan Zee - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:33 AM

        And you were right. So a bigger issue here, I had two 12 year olds (my son and his best friend) who are on a travel team together. I tried to use this as an example of what not to do with your team mates. I know (and they do too) that they would be asked off the team if they pulled that crap.

  14. JayB - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:41 AM

    Mark Says….Nationals’ clubhouse as a whole lacking in a leader, someone who already would have set a tone for how things should be done

    Really that is news Mark….I thought and Zimm and Werth were leaders….that leadership was way overrated and you do not really need say anything just sit back and watch like Zimm…where the these two in all this anyway?

  15. JayB - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:45 AM

    Mark Says…. But he (Rizzo) also has let ego get in the way of sound baseball decisions at times……whoa I had never heard anyone say that before….he hides it so well…..Uggla….list is really super long if you care to look back each year.

    • hweiner3 - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:37 AM

      Rizzo does a great job on the prospect side, but lets former professional association get in the way when it comes to veterans. A good GM has to work both ends to get a team that will go all the way. Too many examples of poor judgment in personnel selection of veterans to count. Excellent record on prospects. It says to me that Rizzo needs to go back to scouting.

  16. Grady Kruse - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:51 AM

    How come none of the National fans or media find fault in Bryce Harper? Papelbon just told him to run the ball out. Why aren’t we asking what Harper said to Papelbon to provoke him into grabbing Harper? The golden boy can’t do anything wrong can he? I applaud Pap for getting on Harper. You guys booed the wrong guy.

    • natsguy - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:15 AM

      Where have you been the last 24 hours? Excuse me the last 2 months.

    • Guapo - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:24 AM

      Troll post or just clueless? I’m curious.

      • Doc - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:46 AM

        Sadly, both, Guapo.

        In times like these there is always lots of troll natsguy arrogance to spread around.

      • jfmii - Sep 28, 2015 at 1:59 PM

        Agree 222 that Papelbon trade should not be an excuse for Storen losing it.

    • janebeard - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:44 AM

      Grady, we were sitting right there. Harp hit a lazy pop-up and would have easily been to first had it been dropped. It wasn’t. And he thought Pap was joking when he went back to the dugout because he was SMILING, but no camera angles show that. That’s aside from the facts that Harp hustles every day. You need to update your opinion of the kid. He did everything right yesterday.

      • Joe Seamhead - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:01 AM

        I agree with you 100%, Jane. If the ball had been dropped Bryce would’ve been standing on 1B. It’s not like when Deon Sanders hit a routine ground ball and walked directly to the dugout. Papelbon is full of… [himself].

      • Section 222 - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:40 AM

        Absolutely right Jane. That’s why Bryce said, “are you (bleeping) kidding me?” when Pap continued to hound him once he got in the dugout. And even on the merits, he was wrong. Bryce’s jog to first was no worse than what we see day in and day out in MLB games. In this particular case, since the ball was hit to short left field, it would have taken Trea Turner speed to assure he made it to second base if the ball was dropped. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bryce’s extremely high baseball IQ (much higher than Pap’s obviously) realized that the moment he hit the ball.

        You and I have disagreed over the Pap trade since he arrived, and I’m still not buying the “poor Drew” stuff, but Pap’s behavior yesterday was completely out of bounds. He should be severely disciplined now and traded ASAP. You can take a victory lap if you wish, and no beanballs at your head would be coming from me.

    • belaurel - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:15 AM

      Kruse there are no words being tossed that should allow a person to physically assault another person. What Papelbon did was in the real world assault and battery and rest assure if this had happened outside the confines of a baseball club, the person doing the strangling would have been arrested.

      • janebeard - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:27 AM

        And still SHOULD be arrested! There is video of an actual assault. An actual crime. But it’s a “family issue.” They’re solving “inside the family.” I know if the police got involved, it would spun as if that was Bryce’s fault.

        Ok I have to step away from the computer and hope that when I return, there is news of a DFA and that Pap has cleaned out his locker, as a good starting move to repair this situation.

    • Drew - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:50 AM

      I don’t mind Papelbon telling Harper to run faster – whether or not it is this particular pitcher’s place to do so.

      The near unanimity here is that Papelbon CANNOT physically attack him. He can’t choke him, for God’s sake.

    • vannordens - Sep 28, 2015 at 11:55 AM

      I agree. If you look closely at the video replay, you will see Harper saying ” Do you want to fight me, then let’s go”
      Harper got what he asked for.

  17. chaz11963 - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:51 AM

    Really well written overview of the situation, Mark. Clearly, this has been building for a long time- apparently years. I completely agree with the assessment, but wonder what will really be done given the enormous costs and the Lerner’s propensity for cost control.

  18. JayB - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:51 AM

    Mark Asks….Can Rizzo, Ted Lerner and Co. admit the colossal mistake they made this summer, no matter how much it stings their pride

    Exactly….question also applies to many of out posters here…..boy Njack has been quite…and yes Njack we have met…in space coast years back…I found you kind of a loud mouth name dropping know it all…..is that still true? All you could talk about was your inside contacts with Rizzo…

    • 3on2out - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:15 AM

      Really JB? You calling someone a know-it-all is the ultimate pot-kettle.

    • janebeard - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:45 AM

      JayB, why bring Natsjack into this? Sheesh. What is wrong with you?

      • veejh - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:58 AM

        In defense of JayB, NatsJack took a stab at him the other day….something about having to meet him in person before he could like him.

    • Dave - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:56 AM

      Oh, how I wish we had an “ignore” button on this site.

      • kkpp3 - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:31 AM

        +1 !!!!

    • jfmii - Sep 28, 2015 at 2:01 PM

      JayB I want to hear more about Clemens and the Texas Longhorns

  19. NatsLady - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:03 AM

    I’m sorry to be the disagreeable one here, but I really object to some of the points in this editorial, Mark.

    (1) The slow jams were FUN! And if they got under the skin of opposing teams, so be it! I smiled every time. It’s a GAME, there is some gamesmanship here. There is far too much of teams cuddling up to each other—did you know the Reds provided the champagne for the Mets???? Come ON!

    (2) I don’t recall how long the sign for the 2012 NL East Championship stayed up. I was of the mind it should have stayed up LONGER, there should be two of them, one for 2012 and one for 2014. I am PROUD of our Nats and I like the banner signs that show our championships, even if they are “only” Division championships. One hundred and sixty two games when into those results.

    (3) I don’t see the objection to the 2018 All-Star Game promotions. I’m not one for All-Star Games, but as advertising goes… well…

    (4) I don’t see what is wrong with showing Werth’s walkoff and JZim’s no-hitter and whatever else in an opening set of videos each game. Those are moments I’m NEVER tired of reliving, like pictures of my family on my refrigerator or bookshelf. (I also like the fanfare. Even though some could argue it’s pretentious, it’s very Washington, DC.) Those are shared memories, and they never wear out as far as I’m concerned. You are trying to build a culture for a team that is only eleven years old.

    Those are the “cosmetic” items that you listed and I disagree with ALL of them.

    Now. As for Williams. I took my time coming to this conclusion, but the Papelbon incident has finally convinced me that he is simply in over his head. He doesn’t think fast enough, period. A fight like that in the dugout, simple: “Hit the showers, both of yuz, we’ll sort this out later.” He learns, but TOO SLOWLY. We all see his in-game management decisions, and rightly question some of them; however, there are other aspects of the job and I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until recently, in particular with Harper’s strong defense of him. But it’s his JOB to manage clubhouse conflicts, it’s his job to ensure that even if the team is disappointing, it’s not embarrassing!!!

    Now it comes out that he “didn’t know” the severity of the altercation when he kept Papelbon in the game. Well, Randy Knorr was right there, you can see him in the photo. He needed to say (and perhaps he did), “Matt, this is bad, this is right on camera, you need to intervene here.” I’m pretty sure Harper took himself out of the game, which doesn’t reflect well on him–but I wouldn’t want to stay on the field with a guy who just attacked me either.

    Rizzo has been known to take quick and decisive action (Remember Jason Marquis and Riggleman?) He needs to take it now. Williams relieved of his duties, Papelbon suspended for the rest of the season.

    • natsfan1a - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:57 AM

      I take your point(s) regarding the cosmetic items, but imo there was an element of hubris there. One thing that comes to mind for me is the rather belligerent hashtag commercials that started early in the season. I recall one that was something like “hashtag: Beantown Smackdown.” If memory serves, a smackdown ensued, but our boys were on the wrong end of it. Heh.

    • Section 222 - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:41 AM

      Well said NL.

  20. ijncricket - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:04 AM

    So what can we do as fans, beyond our ravings here, to help Rizzo and the Lerners come to the right decision about MW and Papelbon. I think there’s a clear consensus that both should go, and soon.

    • janebeard - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:47 AM

      That’s a good question, cricket. This ten year STH will be walking away if they don’t resolve the Pap situation (as in DFA him since he can’t be traded) before the end of the season. I don’t know what else there is to do.

      • ijncricket - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:07 AM

        I put down money for the post-season when there was still hope. Nevertheless, I got an email last week reminding me I have not renewed for next year, so I think I’ll keep them hanging for a bit. I too have been a loyal 10-year STH, but the best baseball money I have spent was on Mark Zuckerman’s inaugural road trip!

    • Nats Fan Zee - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:47 AM

      If you are a STH, write them to threaten to cancel. If you are not, try this:

      http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/help/email.jsp?c_id=was&primarySubject

      Ask them if this policy applies to players:

      http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/was/ballpark/information/index.jsp?content=guest_conduct_policy

      I’m thinking this in particular:

      “Behavior in violation of the Guest Conduct Policy may result in the guest being ejected without refund, arrested by police, being subject to possible prosecution and/or having his/her NATS PLUS Membership and/or Season Plan(s) revoked.”

      I think Pap’s Nats + membership should be revoked! (I,e, DFA him)

      • janebeard - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:58 AM

        BRILLIANT, Zee Fan! Just did it.

      • ijncricket - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:16 AM

        Email sent urging them to never have Papelbon appear again in a National’s uniform.

      • natsfan1a - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:23 AM

        Ditto.

  21. langleyclub - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:04 AM

    Don’t think Papelbon will ever throw another pitch in a Nats uniform.

    There will be a press conference a week from today and Matt William will resign and/or be fired.

    Don’t think Rizzo will get canned, but I would advise him to offer a mea culpa after the season and acknowledge the personnel mistakes he made heading into the season (failing to build an adequate bullpen, the ill-advised Papelbon trade, DE-emphasizing defense) and identify the steps he will take moving forward. Just incredible what a clown show this team has become.

  22. Joe Seamhead - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:05 AM

    I tried to be supportive of the Papelbon signing and I admit I was as wrong as Rizzo was for signing him. That said, I do get tired of the “Oh, poor Drew Storen, they ruined his confidence again” nonsense. Drew Storen is paid a ton of dough to pitch, when he’s told to pitch. It’s not his call to decide who the closer is. I want my closer to have a tougher mind set than Storen has exibited. Personally, I find Storen to be like a lot of talented pool players that I knew that would always run the table and then scratch on the money ball. I never want to see the guy on the mound for the Nats in a really big game again.

    • NatsLady - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:11 AM

      I have zero sympathy for Storen, and not much respect. Clippard, for example, got dealt the same cards–if not worse–and now you see him setting up for Familia on a playoff team and dancing in goofy videos. Closers get demoted ALL THE TIME, sometimes permanently, sometimes temporarily–and they resurface if they have the talent and “grit.”

      • natsfan1a - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:49 AM

        Yeah, regardless of baseball transactions, Drew punched his own ticket. So to speak.

      • Section 222 - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:44 AM

        Once again, on the money NL. Admitting I was wrong about Pap does not equal being wrong about Drew. I’ll be happy that neither of them is on the team next year.

        I don’t think they need to DFA Pap. Suspend him for the rest of the season and then trade him. He will be happy to go somewhere else where he isn’t despised by both the team and the fans, and if the Nats pick up half of his contract another team will be happy to take him. He’s still a decent closer.

  23. NatsLady - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:08 AM

    Also, Williams (and baseball) needs to stop with the “testosterone” excuse, and “these things happen with competitive young men, etc.” Do we have to wait until one player clobbers another with a bat or something?

    • natsfan1a - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:03 AM

      Yes, as Bryce might say, that excuse is “tired.”

  24. janebeard - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:11 AM

    Word.
    Thank you Mark for this awesome distillation of the situation. It puts so much into perspective, and helped this fan understand why I was so intensely hurt and angry to see how things played out through the evening.

    I sure hope your words break through. Thank you for writing it and not keeping it private.

  25. thelatencn - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:14 AM

    I’ve got some questions about all of this. Rizzo is now being attacked for not considering character in his player acquisitions. But I thought that was exactly what he DID do — that he put an end to the old Nyjer Morgan days of hiring head cases. Is there an example of Rizzo hiring bad character guys other than Papelbon? His acquisition struck me as odd at the time. I was a 50+ year diehard Red Sox fan until the Nats came to town, and I never liked that jerk, so I was shocked when the Nats signed him. Frankly, I chalked it up to Mr. Lerner’s advanced age, and the organization’s obsession with winning this year, lest the old man not make it to see a World Series championship.

    But wasn’t Jayson Werth a great clubhouse leader? How many times were we told that he was, and all evidence seemed to support it. Ryan Z and Desi were also lauded for their leadership, and again, with evidence, extending right up to the brawl, when Desi jumped in and pulled Bryce out of the melee before he could get hurt. Is Max not a character guy? Smilin’ Tony?

    As far as Rizzo’s personnel moves this year, it seems t me the key mistake was letting Clippard go. That’s where the unwinding of the bullpen started, isn’t it? The $11 million we were unwilling to pay him is now going to Papelbon, apparently.

    The oddest thing about this season, though, is this: For months we all complained about all the injuries. But when the reserves were starting, we were in first place. When the regulars came back, we dropped like a stone. What’s with that?

    • NatsLady - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:31 AM

      I think Rizzo does consider character, and it seems to have turned out OK with Yunel Escobar, who certainly had a “rep” before he got here but has turned out to be (apparently) a model citizen and a funny guy.

      I think he misjudged Papelbon, but part of the problem was also Williams (and perhaps Werth) who, in a sense, “authorized” Papelbon to call out Harper for “lack of hustle.” Papelbon, rightly, said he was in the wrong for doing that during the game, and that “perhaps it should be left to the manager.” Actually, there’s no PERHAPS about it. It should be left to the manager, and, possibly, possibly, to Harper’s mentor and “brother,” Werth. Papelbon is (a) new to the team and (b) a pitcher. Meanwhile, Williams and Werth have managed Harper into MVP status, keeping his injuries and ejections to a minimum. Everyone else: BUTT OUT.

      So Rizzo sees Papelbon who is a good pitcher and intense, and, actually, had the reputation of being liked by teammates–just not by fans and management. Rizzo probably figured that the Nats’ clubhouse culture was strong enough to absorb the Papelbon personality. It wasn’t. It should have been, as you point out, with Werth, RZim and Desi. But how much do they involve themselves with the pitchers, especially the relievers?

      Who was going to tamp down Papelbon? Max? Maybe, but he’s also new to the team and doesn’t seem to have that “tamping down” type personality. And there is no one in the bullpen with anything NEAR that type of commanding personality. So if not the vets, and if no pitcher, then it had to be Williams, and he HAD to know there was trouble brewing when Harper called Papelbon out for the Machado HBP.

      Bottom line, Rizzo probably knew there could be problems with a guy like Papelbon, but he expected the clubhouse and the manager to deal with them. Unfortunately, the vets had troubles of their own and the manager was not up to the job.

      • kkpp3 - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:44 AM

        Williams should have seen what was unfolding. He should have read Papelbon the riot act right then and there. Sent him to the showers with an earful so that everyone could see. But he doesn’t do any of that. Instead he sends him out to pitch and later defends that by saying “he’s our closer”. Laughable.

    • Guapo - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:33 AM

      The Clippard trade, in and of itself, wasn’t the issue. It netted Escobar, who is in among the leading hitters in the league. It was a great trade by any measure.

      The issue was the Nationals history of unwavering commitment to players they like vs. players who can perform. Storen has the stuff, but not the stomach to be an elite closer. He’s crumbled, again and and again under pressure. Had they found a way to jettison Storen rather then Clippard, the Nats may or may not have had a better season.

      Rizzo scrambled to get a readily available, proven closer to try and save the season while the bullpen was giving away the season. He rolled the dice, and lost, on Pap. Now he needs to be smart and cut loses. If possible, they should demote to the minors until he begs for a trade, or cut him outright. What he did yesterday was simply unacceptable.

  26. Guapo - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:23 AM

    It’s about time the media starts holding this organization’s feet to the fire. We need the local media to put pressure on the leadership. Good work, keep it up.

  27. Johnny Nats Nan - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:35 AM

    Thank you! I am sick of the excuses.

    1. Not enough hitting as if the 2014 NLDS wasn’t enough. Now you have most of 2015.
    2. Overrated Starting pitchers.
    3. Awful Bullpen. Blow it up.
    4. Awful Manager. Fire him.
    5. The good players they have can’t stay healthy. Move on from a few of them.

    • bowdenball - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:18 AM

      The Nationals are third in the NL in runs scored, trailing only the Diamondbacks and Rockies (two teams that were eliminated long ago). They had plenty of hitting.

      There’s enough real things to complain about today, we don’t need to make up stuff too.

  28. joemktg - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:50 AM

    Jeez, the column almost sounded like the Redskins circa early 2000s

  29. Dave - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:58 AM

    Thank you very much for speaking truth to power, Mark. I am sure this was not an easy piece to write, for you particularly, given your long history of covering the team. I appreciate your candor and honesty as Nats Insider number one.

  30. sjm308 - Sep 28, 2015 at 8:58 AM

    This column and comments helped me a great deal.
    Agree with nat’s lady on the promotional stuff. What are they supposed to do, show Gio blowing a 6 run lead?
    I also read both Richard Justice who defended Bryce & CJ Nitowski who had a dozen or so players or ex players defending Pap. I can’t see eating 11 million dollars but i certainly would suspend him the rest of the season. Just embarrassing as a fan

    • janebeard - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:05 AM

      sjm, here’s what you buy by “eating” $11 mill:
      – Your current and future players know that you have their back and that you don’t let bullies off the hook
      – Your fans see you mete justice, after a shocking lack of accountability
      – You help your (former) player finally admit that he has a problem that fat charitable donations and a quick smile and will to win can no longer overcome. And confronted with that reality, he finally gets help for issues his athletic excellence have allowed him to skate over
      – You start the club on the right note going into a tough off-season, so that you have the proverbial snowball’s chance to sign the bull pen and hitters and starter that we need
      – and this long time STH will not have to give up my seats, because no way will I give them another dime till they get rid of him. I think Matt has to go too, but that’s a longer term thing to play out over the winter. DFA Pap? Spend $11 mill to do the right thing? That’s easy.

    • Joe Seamhead - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:34 AM

      I almost always wear a Nats cap, but I am suspending my cap for a couple of days. Maybe I’ll find a Cubs hat. However, I can’t do much about my Washington Nationals license plates on my pickup truck.

      • Dave - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:45 AM

        I ordered a Pirates cap online on Saturday. I almost immediately felt a little guilty about it.

        I got over that yesterday afternoon. Papelbon and Williams made it okay for me to support the Bucs this week. (Or the Cubs, or whoever else beats the Cardinals.)

      • Nats Fan Zee - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:01 AM

        Gotta root for the Cubbies …. It’s been over a century for those poor fans!

      • natsfan1a - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:26 AM

        I actually have a Cubs hat, from a Wrigley visit back in the day with my Chicago-now-Denver friend. I’m not wearing it, but I’ve been planning to root for the Cubs in the postseason. Hope that they’ll advance. We’ll see.

  31. Todd Boss - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:02 AM

    Fantastic article, could not say it better myself. Well done Mark.

  32. Cleon Jones - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:06 AM

    Just asking…many players have behavior clauses in their contracts that give the owners an out. Wouldn’t unprovoked assault fall under that? If he’d grabbed his wife’s throat he’d be in jail and no pay. You can’t grab someone’s throat with both hands and just walk to the bank and cash your 11m check, can you? I know he wasn’t going to kill Harp, but I’m curious. Theoretical speaking, what exactly would pap have done if harp did not fight back and if teammates didn’t intervene? Would he have held him in a choke hold and kept scolding him? Hit him? If a player can lose his income for smoking weed on his sofa and then failing a drug test, then what’s the appropriate penalty for assault? If they have no choice but to pay him, the Nats have plenty of money. Ship Pap to single A affiliate in Hagerstown next season. Let him choke the bus driver.

  33. veejh - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:08 AM

    Now that my friends a big dose of reality.

    • veejh - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:08 AM

      *is

  34. ArVAFan - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:16 AM

    Mark:

    Thank you for stepping up and writing down what needs to be said.

    But I’m with NatsLady on the videos and other fan-oriented items. The older teams still play highlights from decades ago (and would play century+ old ones if they existed). Why not? It’s reminder of why we show up at the park (or at least have so far) to see what could happen that day. I think it’s going to be a long time until I don’t want to see the Werth HR or Souza’s catch.

    I don’t want to see Pap in a Nats uniform again. Ever. Arguing? Understandable. A shove? OK, I could live with that. But hands at the throat? No. And I don’t blame Bryce for taking himself out of the game–if his manager wasn’t going to do something about the guy who just attacked him, I doubt he was focused enough to play.

    And any player, ex- or otherwise, who defends Pap in that situation is someone whose character I would question as well.

  35. jd - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:20 AM

    Mark,

    Excellent article. Your major conclusion is right on. The team hasn’t accomplished enough to have the professional arrogance they do. Until this past incident I was a firm supporter of Mike Rizzo who has really made some good even excellent baseball moves but this has really made me re examine my position.

    Criticism of how Storen was handled is not a defense of ‘poor Storen’ as Joe S and NatsLady put it. The point is that if Rizzo lost confidence in Storen and he has twice he should have moved him and not humiliated him as he did. How was Storen before PAP got here? how was he after? what was the team’s position before PAP got here? how about after?

    1) Paplebon should not pitch another inning for the Nats – ever. $11 million mistake – oh well.
    2) MW who should have been fired after the California trip at the latest should be dismissed in a week. – none of the coaches should be retained. The new manager should be allowed to pick his own staff.
    3) The Lerners should take a long hard look at Mike Rizzo. There is way more to being a GM than making sound baseball decisions, Rizzo is not getting a passing grade on the non baseball side.

    It’s incredible how so talented a team with so many young stars has gotten to this point but this is a cross roads moment and if the wrong road is chosen this can go down hill very quickly.

    • dryw4nats - Sep 28, 2015 at 1:28 PM

      I’d like to add my thoughts about Drew, too. I don’t think it was him whining and sulking. Look at how he pitched in the first four games after Pap was acquired. You don’t pitch perhaps the best four-game stretch of your career and then suddenly remember that you are supposed to be pouting. I think it is more that the complete lack of confidence in him did get into his head. When he had one bad outing, instead of being able to put it behind him, he started pressing harder to show that he could handle the new position and that he deserved to be a closer (and heck, maybe even to prove that he wasn’t “sulking.”) That may be a bit of a “head case” thing to do, but lots of players (including a number on this team this season) start pressing too hard when they feel like they have something to prove. Then it just quickly became a vicious cycle, and at some point it may in fact have gotten into his head that “maybe Rizzo and co. were right about me” and everything just spiraled horrifically down. Or, to be honest, maybe Drew just pulled a Rick Ankiel–the kind where you forget how to pitch, not the kind where you hit the catcher’s glove with your throw from deep center. Either way, I don’t think that requesting a trade after being demoted twice is an unreasonable response, and I don’t believe that Drew was somehow sulking or being a baby. I know I’m in a minority here, but that’s where I stand.

    • Section 222 - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:58 AM

      Incredible. Notice that none of those anonymous former players actually says that it was ok to attack him. There’s room for disagreement about (1) whether Bryce hustled enough under the circumstances; and (2) whether Pap had the right to say something to him. I come down on Bryce’s said on both of those questions. But the assault was beyond the pale. I have absolutely no respect for any player, current or former, veteran or rookie, who doesn’t understand that. None.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:00 AM

        +1

      • Mrsb loves the Nats - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:02 AM

        Gah – this is what i get for not hitting refresh before posting…

      • bowdenball - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:21 AM

        +1.

        The word “choke” literally does not appear in that column. Seems like someone should have at least mentioned the nature of the attack before defending it. Otherwise that nonsensical “two wrongs make a right, respect your elders” rationale could be applied to defend anything!

      • kkpp3 - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:56 AM

        +1

        On the one hand you have a gifted 22 year old who sometimes acts like a 12 year old; on the other hand you have a 34 year old psychotic who should probably be charged with assault. I know which one I’d want on my team.

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:02 AM

      I have issues with the article because NO ONE is talking about the physical attack. They are talking about calling Bryce out for supposedly ‘not hustling’

      Bryce cant win for nothing. When he hustles they tell him, he plays too hard… then when he jogs to 1b on a routine pop-up, he is not hustling. Had the OF droped the ball, Bryce would have been at 1st. So lets not act like he just stood in the box.

      Didnt we see MAT and Ramos do the same thing a few times this season (Ramos especially who likes to watch every ball that he hits as if it is a walk off)

      But again WHO IS PAPS to say ANTHING to Harper. Paps has been here all of 2-3 months. Bye Felicia. Go sit down somewhere.

      • Section 222 - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:10 AM

        Obviously, I agree with you 100%. 🙂

        What’s the Felicia reference?

      • jd - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:16 AM

        Mrsb

        That’s the main point here. Paplebon has earned absolutely no ‘capital’ in this organization. He came here with a reputation of an Ahole, hasn’t pitched well ans is now attacking the team’s best player (league MVP)?

        This really underscores the horrific mistake Rizzo made at the trade deadline. If you needed bullpen help, go get 1 or 2 pitchers who are not certified Aholes, don’t demote your closer who is pitching lights out when there is no reason to do so. When you make a baseball acquisition it can’t be all about x’s and o’s. When this move happened many of us held our noses because we knew the potential stench. Rizzo chose to ignore it and now the team that was up by 3 games is down by 8 and in total disarray.GM’s have been fired for less.

      • natsfan1a - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:37 AM

        I did not know this, but the interweb tells me that it came from a flick:

        http://www.vibe.com/2015/04/angela-means-friday-bye-felicia-interview/

      • Section 222 - Sep 28, 2015 at 1:17 PM

        Thanks NN. That’s funny.

  36. trfwans - Sep 28, 2015 at 9:51 AM

    Mark’s comments about the banners are spot on. The large 2012 champions banner was up over the scoreboard all of 2013, which was fine. Champs are entitled to a victory lap the next season. But it stayed up there all of 2014, until it was replaced by the 2014 champions banner and a smaller 2012 banner went up in right field. That’s excessive. Next year the large 2014 banner needs to come down and be replaced by a smaller one next to 2012.

    The All Star signs are excessive too. One sign in the ballpark would be fine, but they have THREE – for an event that’s still three years away.

    But I disagree that arrogance is at the root of this. It’s not arrogance, it’s cluelessness. The Lerners are running the ballpark and maybe the team as well like it’s one of their shopping malls or construction sites. I suppose that’s to be expected, though. Owners don’t change their stripes from what they were before. Bud Selig ran MLB like the used car salesman he always was, didn’t he?

  37. geezeguy - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:04 AM

    Wonderful post! The fish stink from the heads, and you can smell Nats Park office panic from here in Ariington. I did not think Mike would throw Matt over the side as fast as he has in order to save his own job, but he has. For Boswell to write in today’s Post that Matt “almost certainly will be fired” makes it semi-official – – Boswell has the most inside track of all in learning and reporting what Rizzo and the Lerners think. Seems pretty clear to me that Rizzo and the Lerners now are ready to cut Matt loose. When? A week from today? More or less. Pay his salary, wish him well, then shop for a real skipper w some chops and a track record. No more rookies (Manny Acta, anyone?).

    Side note: What role, if any, did Scott Boras play in all of this? Bryce is one of his meal tickets, and I bet he was on the phone in seconds to Rizzo and the Lerners, asking what they were doing to prevent further damage to the goods. It’s a shame that an agent has as much influence in all this as he does.

    • trfwans - Sep 28, 2015 at 11:53 AM

      Boz hasn’t had an inside track to the front office since Kasten left. Kasten is the only one who didn’t say “How did you get this number?” if they mistakenly picked up when Boz was on the line.

  38. Eugene in Oregon - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:13 AM

    Add my kudos to those above for Mark Zuckerman’s column this morning. I infer that some of what he’s written about promotions and pennants and such is a reflection of what he’s hearing from out-of-town writers about their perceptions (and, perhaps, the perceptions of visiting teams). Whatever the case, I’m not too concerned.

    I did note the following: “If these last few weeks served as an opportunity for Williams to prove himself worthy of the job, to prove himself the kind of leader Rizzo has believed for more than a decade he would be, he hasn’t come close to making the most of it.” My take — and I admit it’s based on my from-afar impressions — is that Matt Williams has been managing not as if he had an opportunity to save his job, but as if he’s already convinced that the job is gone. And I’m not just talking about the last 10 days.

  39. NatsNut - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:15 AM

    So where is Rizzo? Seems like he needs to emerge pretty soon with some kind of message or this [stuff]storm is going to get way worse for him and his team.

    • bowdenball - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:35 AM

      There’s a 3 PM game. Assuming they’re on the normal timeline guys should be getting to the park in the next hour or so. I would bet that you’ll hear from someone from the front office/ownership by noon or so.

      • jd - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:41 AM

        BB,

        I see where Paplebon is trying hard to undo the damage by saying he and Bryce have straightened it out etc. I don’t think this can be allowed to be swept under the rug.

        I don’t know if Rizzo is inclined to fire the manager a week before the end of the season but I bet you he is starting to feel some pretty strong pressure himself. I think Mark is right, this is symptomatic of much larger issues and it needs to be nipped at the bud right now.

      • bowdenball - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:51 AM

        My prediction is a suspension today for Papelbon for the rest of the season. and that’s it for now. Placates the masses and lets them avoid having to fire Williams a week before the end of the season. I know we’re all foaming at the mouth, and rightfully so, but it’s just a week. This afternoon’s game will likely pass without incident, something crazy will happen on Monday night football tonight or the Astros will finally give up their grip on a playoff spot or something, and the national media will move on. And next thing you know it’ll be next Monday and we’ll be talking about Williams’ failed tenure and debating candidates for the job for next season.

      • jd - Sep 28, 2015 at 11:03 AM

        BB

        Do you think Rizzo is safe in all of this? I am no longer sure.

      • kkpp3 - Sep 28, 2015 at 11:05 AM

        This member of the masses won’t be placated until I’m confident Papelbon will never play another game in a Nats uniform.

      • bowdenball - Sep 28, 2015 at 11:15 AM

        I do think Rizzo is safe, jd. He made a very bad mistake with the Papelbon acquisition, but it’s impossible to be a mistake-free GM. They all make multiple bad moves every year. The Blue Jays are the best team in baseball this season and their current GM traded Travis D’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard for RA Dickey a couple years ago. It’s the nature of the beast. All you can do is look at their total body of work, and Rizzo’s is outstanding.

      • jd - Sep 28, 2015 at 11:24 AM

        bb,

        More than the Paplebon acquisition on Rizzo’s negative side of the ledger I have the MW hiring and sticking with him so long. I also think he has mishandled Storen badly because if he really felt that he couldn’t give him the ball in key situations he should have moved him.

        I think Rizzo is outstanding as a talent elevator, very good in trades etc but less than stellar in people evaluation.

      • bowdenball - Sep 28, 2015 at 11:31 AM

        Yeah I agree he’s mishandled both the Papelbon/Storen situation and Williams, but I’m still not sure that outweighs all his good work. It’s certainly not nearly the disaster that D’Arnaud/Syndergaard for Dickey is and I’m sure the Jays are glad they stuck with AA.

        I think this generation of Nats teams is still a work in progress, and until they show that they need to tear it down and rebuild (say by finishing >10 games under .500) you have to stick with the guy who built this generation. You don’t want to waste a year or two of Harper’s time in DC while a new GM gets up to speed on his assets and options.

    • natsfan1a - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:37 AM

      I was thinking ownership, but maybe that’s a pipe dream.

      • jd - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:43 AM

        natsfan1a,

        I agree with you. This need to be handled all the way at the top. Rizzo is largely responsible for this mess and I am not sure if there is a way to let him clean this up

    • Dave - Sep 28, 2015 at 10:38 AM

      I must admit, I was expecting some significant announcement this morning, especially after Svrluga mentioned that Rizzo had no comment, but a “high-level team executive” was in the clubhouse yesterday.

  40. natsfan1a - Sep 28, 2015 at 11:07 AM

    Just saw this from Svrluga. Not sure whether that’s speculation or from the team. If it’s from the team, take out the first five words, please. And then, can we talk about the words “some discipline”? Yeah.

    Barry Svrluga ‏@barrysvrluga 42m42 minutes ago

    There is the possibility that the Nats will announce some discipline for Papelbon today. Last home game at 3:05 p.m. Stay tuned.

    • janebeard - Sep 28, 2015 at 11:24 AM

      Man, if they DON’T…my heart and head will explode. And t better be significant, none of this “he’ll serve his three game suspension” stuff that’s also being rumored. I wish I could get a ping that tells me when this happens so I could quit trolling here and on twitter for word.

      • kkpp3 - Sep 28, 2015 at 11:43 AM

        It will be interesting to see where the decision falls on the spectrum from Forthright to Timid. Baseball (not just the Nats fan base) deserves it to be on the Forthright end.

  41. golfersal - Sep 28, 2015 at 11:12 AM

    Mark, this was perfect and couldn’t agree more.
    The Nats have to give Pap his walking papers, no matter how much it costs them.

  42. golfersal - Sep 28, 2015 at 11:19 AM

    Mark, it’s important that you say that the Nats haven’t really accomplished anything great.
    The most important word you have putt in the story is Arrogance.

    As a person that has been a 82-game season ticket holder for 11 years now, I have really hated the arrogance the Nats have shown to it’s fans. They think their product is the best but we haven’t made it by the first round of the playoffs.

    Were I really hate the arrogance is getting a letter the first part of August on how great the Nats are on the way to the playoffs and World Series, then having them raise my ticket prices another five bucks each. In the last three years by tickets have gone from $45 to $65 and it’s no longer fun going to Nats games. It’s become a reality TV show, a soap opera.

    So I can only hope that the Nats think hard on what to do to reimburse season ticket holders for such a crappy season in which we are paying top-dollar for. The Nats aren’t learning any lessons from the Redskins, who have lost thousands of season ticket holders, I trust the Nats will lose thousands of ticket holder for next year because of their Arrogance.

    • Section 222 - Sep 28, 2015 at 1:11 PM

      Dont’ hold your breath on their doing anything at all to “reimburse” us. They have us right where they want us.

      They won’t lose alot of SPHs over this, but there new sales may suffer.

  43. wvpastorphil - Sep 28, 2015 at 11:28 AM

    Probably one of your hardest but surely of of your best columns. Thanks. It made me feel like our voice was being raised and heard. Thanks again , Mark!

  44. natsguy - Sep 28, 2015 at 11:32 AM

    BB,

    I like your optimism, but sometimes its misplaced. You were the one who called the farm system top 5 when it is pretty much mid 20’s. Keep up the optimism but there is a lot of issues to fix and not much to do it with.

  45. stoatva - Sep 28, 2015 at 11:49 AM

    . They continue to show replay after replay after replay of Jayson Werth’s walk-off homer in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS — an admittedly wonderful baseball moment — while completely ignoring what happened only 24 hours later to render that moment a mere footnote.

    Amen. That has long seemed more poignant than jubilant to me.

    We thought there was hope!

  46. futureme4 - Sep 28, 2015 at 11:52 AM

    If you ignorant blowhards drive the Lerner’s to get rid of Mike Rizzo, you will have earned the shitty baseball you will get for the next decade.

    Do you realize Rizzo got not one but TWO future contributors for goddamn Stephen Souza? What form of magic was the Doug Fister heist?

    Hey, should not have traded Clippard? That would have sorted the bullpen issues? But wait, wasn’t Yunel Escobar basically the offense for streches at a time this year? WAAAYYYYYY more valuable than Clippard ever would have been another goddamn steal.

    So the bullpen stinks. Bullpens are volatile. And the process for adding Papelbon was sound. According to your theories it should have worked. Lights out Storen in the 8th and Papelbon in the 9th. Isn’t that the way its supposed to work?

    Then all this off-field bullshit and there are no leaders. What? Aren’t we lousy with leaders? At least lousy will overpaid veterans like Werth and Ryan Zimmerman (who get NO criticism at all even though he’s basically been replacement level for a year and half yet continues to cash his $100 million checks). Take a look there for why this team underperfomed — one of its franchise cornerstones is an overpaid load who faces ZERO heat for his performance. And where is the criticism of Rendon? Wasn’t he supposed to be an All-Star level performer? Not even close.

    I love that Rizzo criticism of “he prioritizes talent over chemistry.” THANK GOD! THATS HIS JOB A$$HOLES. And he does it better than anyone else in the business. All this is just a function of not meeting expectations, it would be Bronx Zoo-like if they were closing in on 100 wins.

    • Drew - Sep 28, 2015 at 12:03 PM

      Insulting, profane and grammatically incorrect – congratulations on your trifecta.

    • Section 222 - Sep 28, 2015 at 12:13 PM

      Looking past all the inappropriate language the funniest thing about this comment is that it assumes that what we say here has any influence at all on the Lerners. Hahahahahah!

  47. newenglandnat - Sep 28, 2015 at 11:55 AM

    You’re never as bad as you think you really are when things seem the worst, just like you’re never as good as you think you really are when things seem the best.

    Blowing this team up completely, or getting rid of Rizzo, would be an enormous mistake. If the bullpen had performed competently in big games, or if just one of Werth, Zimm, Span, or Rendon hadn’t been injured this year (or, frankly, if the injuries had simply been better spread out), we aren’t having this discussion. That’s not to say there aren’t other problems — including the fact that key players have been injury-prone — but you just can’t discount the entirety of the situation.

    Sure, Williams should go. He’s made a number of boneheaded decisions that likely cost them a game or two (it’s hard to quantify things like that). And the Papelbon move didn’t turn out well for any number of reasons, but it’s hard to blame Rizzo for it except in the worst kind of hindsight. Pap will go — that much is sure — and the bullpen will be rebuilt because it has to be. That’s the primary change that will occur.

    Having injury prone players? Well, the Werth signing made sense if for no other reason than it established the team as a serious player. Even if he never played another inning, I’d have no complaint. Zimm? You take risk with reward with deals of that kind — Zimm didn’t seem to be an injury prone guy at the time. Rendon? Way too early to judge. You can’t have replaceable parts for everyone, and they didn’t. But Rizzo did construct a roster and a farm system that was able to absorb a lot of those hits.

    I find the complaining about the size of banners, and the song choices, and the replays to be absurd. You celebrate what limited success you’ve had. There’s nothing wrong with that. You think the fact that a replay is shown of Werth’s HR or there’s a big division crown banner means the owners, management, and players are unaware of postseason failures? Please.

    • NatsLady - Sep 28, 2015 at 12:41 PM

      Good post. Thank you.

  48. Drew - Sep 28, 2015 at 12:57 PM

    The best verbal response to an assault came from Gore Vidal.

    Norman Mailer slugged Vidal at a party. While still on the floor, Vidal said:

    “Once again, words have failed Norman Mailer.”

  49. alwaysthetraffic - Sep 28, 2015 at 12:59 PM

    Oh the irony: the tight fisted, cash-poor Mets take short term flyer on a transformative player and win the division, while the team with the $160 million payroll can’t even acquire a middle tier guy like Parra because they don’t want his contract (but in the same breath drop millions on a problem child closer they didn’t need in the first place). Throw in the Mets acquisition of valuable secondary players (Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Addison Reed), and it’s easy to see why the Nats clubhouse might have expected Rizzo to do better at the trading deadline.

    Williams can be replaced and Papelbon can go audition for Hee Haw. The bigger questions are the respective roles Rizzo and the Lerners occupy when it comes to player procurement. It looks like the current arrangement has sprung a leak or two.

  50. NatsNut - Sep 28, 2015 at 1:00 PM

    Did you guys see what Mark DeRosa said about it?

    DeRosa on Papelbon on MLB Central: pic.twitter.com/SbuOmpOAC8— Jake Russell (@_JakeRussell) September 28, 2015

    //platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

    • Section 222 - Sep 28, 2015 at 1:35 PM

      Thanks for posting this! Right on DeRo. Oh, and there’s the added fact that Pap assaulted Bryce. Still, good comment.

    • dryw4nats - Sep 28, 2015 at 1:35 PM

      I always did like Mark DeRosa….

      • jd - Sep 28, 2015 at 1:58 PM

        I would be 100% OK if Mark DeRosa applied and got the Nats manager’s job. He has more personality in his pinky than MW has in his entirety. And as far as baseball decision making, I think MW is slightly ahead of my dog in that regard.

  51. metsfanapg - Sep 28, 2015 at 1:14 PM

    Hey been reading the site and comments since July. Have to say that Mark does a pretty good job. I am not trying to intentionally troll here but nobody is pointing out that Harper played a big part in yesterdays incident, and I am not talking about whether he ran out a fly ball.

    Last week he did not back up his pitcher (Papelbon) in the press after he hit Machado. I think Papelbon should not have drilled Machado, but that does not really matter. While Harper may have been correct in how he felt, he should never state that to the press. That is a conversation that has to be made with Papelbon in house. That obviously festered with the result being the ugly incident yesterday.

    From a far this clubhouse does not seem to have strong leadership. Living in Maryland I watch quite a bit Nationals games, and it seemslike the Williams has lost the team, even before yesterday. While I will not lie and say that it is not enjoyable to watch a division rival self destruct, I do have sympathy as a fellow fan who has seen his share of ineptness.

    Papelbon was definitely wrong here, but from his perspective you have a 22 year old hot head who disrespected him to the press, and then (Based on amature lip readers) challenged him. Just stupidity from all involved. Best of luck in the future.

    1 other thing, you posters here are brutal with each other when people have dissenting opinion. I expect to be attacked as a Mets fan posting here, but you guys just treat your fellow fans terrible when they have negative things to say.

    • Section 222 - Sep 28, 2015 at 1:38 PM

      I think your’e right that Bryce shouldn’t have said what he said after the Machado incident, although as I’ve said before, he’s absolutely right that throwing at people who pimp HRs is “tired.” But nothing, and I mean literally nothing, justifies a physical attack in the dugout. So no, Bryce didn’t play a big part in the incident. Regardless of what he did, Pap’s assault, and that’s what it was, was absolutely wrong.

      • metsfanapg - Sep 28, 2015 at 1:43 PM

        Again, assault is not ok, and in a vacuum I agree with you. But if your going to challenge someone to come at you, you cant be surprised when someone takes you up on it. Especially if that someone has already demonstrated that he is willing to throw a baseball at someones head.

        You are definitely entitled to your opinion, even though I do not agree with it. The bigger problem facing the Nationals is not the attack itself, its that the environment allowing this to reach this point existed in the first place. Williams has completely lost is players, and that is not something he can not recover from.

      • Section 222 - Sep 28, 2015 at 1:50 PM

        Maybe you have at expect, but it’s still wrong. It sure wouldn’t be a defense in court.

  52. funnationals - Sep 28, 2015 at 1:18 PM

    You get the verisimilitude award, Mr. Zuckerman.

  53. tcostant - Sep 28, 2015 at 1:33 PM

    Harsh, but true. Love it.

  54. jfmii - Sep 28, 2015 at 1:50 PM

    Great article, Mark

  55. philipd763 - Sep 28, 2015 at 2:12 PM

    The Nationals should have grabbed Dave Dombrowski when he became available.

    • Drew - Sep 28, 2015 at 2:18 PM

      Not by the neck.

  56. texnat1 - Sep 28, 2015 at 7:01 PM

    Great piece, MZ

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