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What went wrong for the Nationals in 2015?

Oct 7, 2015, 6:00 AM EST

Photo by USA Today

The 2015 season was a massive disappointment for the Nationals, who fell short of the playoffs and a World Series title they were expected to compete for. In attempt to make sense of what went wrong for them and how they can prevent it from happening again, we’ve put together a three-part series on the 2015 season. In this, our first installment, we look at why they underachieved…

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE NATIONALS IN 2015?

Mark Zuckerman:

The Nationals underachieved this season not because of one all-encompassing issue but because of several lesser issues that, when put together, derailed this ballclub.

The reason team officials and players cited most was injuries, and certainly those did play a significant role. The Nats opened the season without their No. 1, 2 or 3 hitters (Denard Span, Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth) and not one of them wound up appearing in more than 88 games. Ryan Zimmerman started the year healthy but didn’t finish healthy. Stephen Strasburg only made 23 starts, the first 10 of them not feeling 100 percent. Craig Stammen, Casey Janssen, Aaron Barrett and David Carpenter all missed considerable time with arm injuries.

That much lost manpower is going to be difficult for any team to overcome, though the Mets and Cardinals certainly proved you can still win big in spite of injuries.

It’s also easy to blame to the Nationals’ bullpen, which featured a mishmash of past-their-prime veterans and inexperienced newcomers. And Mike Rizzo’s response to fixing that obvious problem area (trading for Jonathan Papelbon) only created bigger problems.

But to me, the biggest reason for the Nationals’ disappointing season is the inability of what was supposed to be this team’s unquestioned strength — the vaunted starting rotation — to live up to its lofty expectations.

Take each starter’s season individually, and there’s not a whole lot to find fault with. Max Scherzer (2.77 ERA, 276 strikeouts, 34 walks) was ridiculously dominant for the most part. Jordan Zimmermann (3.66 ERA, 164 strikeouts, 39 walks) was solid. Gio Gonzalez (11-8, 3.79) was his usual self. Strasburg gave up fewer hits, walked fewer batters and struck out more batters per nine innings than he did in 2014.

But collectively, that group did not come close to its full potential. The rotation’s overall 3.70 ERA was worse than any of the previous three seasons, a full 66 points worse than the group’s MLB-best 3.04 mark in 2014. Starters gave up more home runs (104) than in any season since 2009. They pitched 36 fewer innings.

A great rotation could have masked a lot of this team’s other issues. It could have taken pressure off the injury-depleted lineup. It could have prevented Matt Williams from needing to call upon his beleaguered setup men to get out of tight spots in the sixth and seventh innings. It could have given the entire clubhouse reason to feel more confident in the likelihood of victory every night the players took the field.

That doesn’t mean the Nationals didn’t have problems beyond their rotation. Of course they did. There were far more flaws on the roster, on the coaching staff and in the front office than anybody reasonably expected when the season began.

But this team was built all along to win behind what was supposed to be an historically great rotation. That group was merely good, and so all of the Nationals’ other flaws ultimately came together to create major disappointment.

Chase Hughes: 

Any time a team with championship aspirations stumbles as hard as the Nationals did this season, there are always plenty of problems to point to. For the Nats, those factors included a shoddy bullpen, a starting rotation that was nowhere near what it was supposed to be, injuries to their lineup, poor coaching in key spots and a front office that underestimated clubhouse chemistry in a trade that could go down as a cautionary tale for years to come.

Those all have to be mentioned, but I would like to zero in on what I would call an absent sense of urgency, which in turn caused key mistakes at moments where the Nationals needed to persevere and make changes to save their season.

Just like in 2013, the Nationals made several adjustments this year that were either miscalculated or executed far too late. They were once again too patient with struggling veterans. And once again they did not press the right buttons with midseason moves both in terms of trades and promoting from within.

This time, they should have added an outfielder not just before the deadline, but weeks before it arrived. More outfield depth would have made things much easier for Matt Williams with Denard Span out and it would have allowed Jayson Werth some much-needed days off as he got back into the fold.

They should have added a reliever to complement Drew Storen, not supplant him. Instead, they traded for Jonathan Papelbon in a boom-or-bust deal that completely blew up in their faces.

The most troubling takeaway from this season to me, however, is how the team panicked once things went wrong. CBS Sports and The Washington Post recently published stories that were excellent reporting, but they highlighted some key big-picture concerns.

In 2013, the Nationals were a team that fell short of expectations, but they didn’t embarrass themselves while doing so. This time they went from a functional, model franchise to dysfunctional, all within a few short weeks.

Next time the going gets tough, will the backstabbing and anonymous shots across the clubhouse emerge again? Will players undermine their manager both publicly and privately if things don’t go their way? Winning can cure a lot of things, but the Nationals showed they are a team that is a few bad losses from turning on each other.

The Nationals now have looming questions about their ability to handle adversity. We’ve seen them come up short in big moments on the field, and now it’s possible they have trouble dealing with pressure off of it.

117 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. ArVAFan - Oct 7, 2015 at 7:05 AM

    For those who care about such things:

    The Mets have shipped all the game-used items from Max’s no-hitter down to the Nationals (I assume there will be an on-line auction as for the previous two no-hitters).

    The Mets Authentics is not the most organized group, so I was hoping to buy a ball or two before they paid attention to what they had. Almost did it, too: when I called Monday they said call back Tuesday once we’ve finished the inventory. But by Tuesday the Nats had swooped in. Dagnabit–I’ll have to pay “retail” once they go on line.

  2. unterp - Oct 7, 2015 at 7:11 AM

    The season was over as soon as Ian Desmond made the comment after the first game about Scherzer’s 210 million dollar salary. …

    • NatsNut - Oct 7, 2015 at 7:13 AM

      I don’t remember. What was the comment?

    • Steady Eddie - Oct 7, 2015 at 8:26 AM

      Yes, “please. Whatever Desi’s many failings over this season especially (and others), shooting his mouth off divisively was not one of them.

      What I do distinctly remember was Desi being responsible for the three runs (all unearned) the Mets scored that day, including virtually shoving Uggla out of the way to drop a routine pop fly he had absolutely no business going for, when Scherzer had a no-hitter going into the sixth.

      • Steady Eddie - Oct 7, 2015 at 8:31 AM

        Meant to write, yes, quote please.

    • unkyd59 - Oct 7, 2015 at 8:29 AM

      What comment?

    • natsfan1a - Oct 7, 2015 at 9:54 AM

      I also don’t remember the comment. Speaking of Desi, great statement from him showing up in the tweeter updates thingy at the top of the page.

    • unterp - Oct 7, 2015 at 3:32 PM

      Dan Kolko
      ✔ @masnKolko

      Desmond was asked if he thought Scherzer had no-hit stuff. He laughed. “He’s making $200 million. I hope he has no-hit stuff.”
      7:27 PM – 6 Apr 2015

      • NatsNut - Oct 7, 2015 at 4:12 PM

        Ahh. I was wondering what you meant. Thanks for sharing, but I guess I don’t get how that killed the season. Because, you know, he DID have no-hit stuff. Kind of a lot, actually. Just curious. =)

      • unkyd59 - Oct 7, 2015 at 6:49 PM

        That’s weak, unterp…..

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 8, 2015 at 12:28 AM

        SRSLY? You want to pick THAT??

        If you’d chosen “Where’s my ring?” — OK. I wouldn’t agree, but OK, I did cringe when I heard it. But that?

  3. Rangac - Oct 7, 2015 at 7:39 AM

    We lost the season in the first month of the season solely because of fielding errors committed by Ian desmond. The fact that he will not be a nat in 2016 will turn things around.

    • Candide - Oct 7, 2015 at 2:00 PM

      We lost by seven games. Are you saying Desmond’s fielding cost the Nats seven games in the standings in the very first month?

      Amazing, because on May 6 – one month into the season – they were 4-1/2 games out.

      Would love to see your reasoning. If any.

    • letswin3 - Oct 7, 2015 at 4:36 PM

      You may lose your rights to comment here if you say less than credible and unsupportable stuff like this, Rangac.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 8, 2015 at 12:30 AM

      I dunno. I thought at the time he cost them at least four or five, anyway. Season, maybe not, but a case could be made that a decent season from Desmond would have changed a lot of things.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 8, 2015 at 12:31 AM

        I’m still blaming Rizzo for getting Papelbon, for the record.

  4. jd - Oct 7, 2015 at 9:16 AM

    Despite everything mentioned (rotation, bullpen, injuries, lack of urgency) the Nats were in 1st place on July 31st by 3 games and most of their injured players were back. The team fell apart and to me the number 1 reason was dealt with 2 days ago – Matt Williams.

  5. bowdenball - Oct 7, 2015 at 9:25 AM

    I love Mark and Chase, and I don’t mean to be overly critical. But this is a team that finished third in the National League in runs scored, and as Mark pointed out the rotation was mildly disappointing but still certainly decent enough to win the division. The bullpen collapsed in some high-leverage spots but was actually not nearly as bad as we think, finishing 6th in the NL in both ERA and OPS against.

    So if those facts are all easily accessible and seem to be common knowledge, how is it that this is the first time the words “defense” and “luck” appear on this page?

    The Nats finished in the lower third of the league in most defensive metrics. And if you’re not a fan of analytics, any fan who watched the bulk of the season knows they started at least one and sometimes two horrible OF defenders every game, they played at least two infielders out of position on a regular basis, their once-outstanding defensive SS slipped considerably, they employed shifts less frequently than almost every team in the majors despite clear evidence that shifts work, and so on and so on. Their defense was simply awful.

    They also under-performed their pythagorean W/L record and other advanced projections like third order W/L record by a significant amount. In fact by those measures they were equal to or better than the Mets. Or if you’re not a fan of analytics, you know they scored their runs in bunches and won a lot more blowout games than they lost (29-20 in games with 5+ run margins). That’s partially bad managing but mostly bad luck.

    So there’s your answer- bad defense, bad strategy and bad luck, with struggles at the back end of the bullpen mixed in a bit with those last two. It really was just that simple.

    • jfmii - Oct 7, 2015 at 9:36 AM

      Certainly defense and starting pitching go hand in hand.

      • bowdenball - Oct 7, 2015 at 11:31 AM

        Well, not really. They’re too often conflated. That was kind of my problem here. Other than the HRs the pitching was about as good as could reasonably be expected. They paired the fourth-highest strikeout rate in the league with the league’s lowest walk rate. The problem was what happened when they allowed a ball to be put in play, and the pitchers can’t do much about that.

      • jfmii - Oct 7, 2015 at 5:15 PM

        Yes bowdenball, I was basically agreeing with you and I was lazy in the words I used. What I should have said is that the fate and perception of starting pitching often goes hand in hand with either bad or good defense. I think it is a testament to Ian Desmond’s being a good guy that the starters didn’t strangle him in April… and uh, that is April 2013, 2014 and 2015

    • npb99 - Oct 7, 2015 at 10:27 AM

      I recall posters lamenting MW’s failure to make late inning defensive replacements, e.g. Espi for Esco. And that hurt us – one weakness (managing) compounding another.

    • nats4me - Oct 7, 2015 at 4:42 PM

      Indeed the Nats offense was above average. My only problem was that this team scored runs when they hit homeruns. When the homers stopped, so did their scoring. How often did we have the line moving with runners on, and up pops Ian Desmond or Wilson Ramos…a K and a double play and the inning was over.

      I’m also wondering why the few times that Michael Taylor, batting eighth got on, MW didn’t have him try to steal 2nd. A sucessful bunt by the pitcher and suddenly we have a runner on third.

      How often did we score with a walk, a stolen base, a ground out and a sac fly? How often did we get a runner to 2nd only to have him remain there for the rest of the inning?

      The bullpen ERA wasn’t horrid…but it’s when they gave up those runs. How often did the team go up in the 6th or 7th, only to have the bullpen give it all away right after. Strange that the bullpen was solid when it was 7 to 2, but 4 to 3…kiss that lead goodbye!

    • dcphanatic - Oct 9, 2015 at 1:02 PM

      I absolutely agree that the defense was a critical factor. Not just the physical errors, but the mental mishaps and the plays not Made because so many fellows were playing the wrong position or a new position as in the case of Escobar and Zimm. A better defense could had helped the pitching a whole lot. As for the hitting, the season stats are tremendously deceiving. This was a incredibly streaky team. The only player that was steady and consistent through the season was Harper. Escobar was also consistent to a lesser degree. As a hitting team these fellows lack fundamentals, are incapable of situational hitting, outside of Zimm, Robinson, Escobar, and Harper they don’t seem to be able to recognize the strike zone. Fastballs are getting too fast for Werth, and I have never seen anybody take so many “down the middle” called strikes as Rendon did this year. Demond and MAT are strikeout machines, I had not confidence at all with Desi hitting and MISP. He could not put the ball in play. Ramos was among the statistical leaders in the NL when it comes to hitting into a double play. One or two of those things can be overcome, but all together, happening at once are like Kryptonite. They score runs in bunches. They would go thru a stretch in which they look like the 27 Yankees, and then they would cool of and go thru long stretches in which they could not score. Brice Harper hit .330 with 42 bombs and he does not get 100 RBIs! 42 bombs for the love of Pete! When was the last time anybody had that dubious distinction? Nolan Arenado hit the same number of homers, hit a full 43 points below Harper and had 130 RBIs. This team as constructed cannot hit with consistency. It could not in 2013, it could not in 2014 and it could not this year. That is why they lost to the Giants in 2014, they could not manufacture a stinking run when they had to. Giants could, and they won a World Series.

  6. legnatsfan - Oct 7, 2015 at 9:28 AM

    Mark forgot to mention Fister’s struggles when talking about the shortfalls of the starting rotation.

    • natsguy - Oct 7, 2015 at 9:32 AM

      Fister’s down year was definitely a problem.

    • dcphanatic - Oct 9, 2015 at 1:07 PM

      I really wonder what happened to Fister. He did not look healthy to me all year long. His fastball went from the 88-90 MPH range to 84-86. He topped at 86 and mostly lived at 84. That is a high school fastball. At that speed and with his inability to hit spots or keep the ball low is not a mystery why he got shelled so consistently.

  7. natsguy - Oct 7, 2015 at 9:31 AM

    BB,

    An awful lot of that bad defense can go to people playing out of position (i.e. Escobar, Rendon, Robinson, Moore). I was interested in what you wrote about shifts. Is that actually quantified?

    • ArVAFan - Oct 7, 2015 at 11:16 AM

      Yes. I read somewhere recently (sorry, I can’t find the source at the moment–too many “why the Nats failed” analysis articles out there at the moment) that the Nats were somewhere like 27th or 29th on defensive shifts. Whatever happens with the coaching staff, one person that I can’t imagine being picked up by a new manager is Weidemeier.

    • bowdenball - Oct 7, 2015 at 11:51 AM

      I’ve seen in quantified in a bunch of places. Here’s one saying that the Nats were 29th of 30 teams in employing infield shifts:

      http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/story/mlb-defensive-shifts-up-another-33-percent-this-season-100515

      • natsguy - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:04 PM

        That is the first time I heard that. Really a scary stat. They hired a guy specifically to position players and this is the result. If there ever was a reason to doubt Matt Williams that is a big one.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:19 PM

        I do remember the players (and FP) complaining about having to shift out of their comfort zone.

      • Section 222 - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:24 PM

        Sure bb, but what about all those times a batter hits the ball where the SS or 2B is “supposed to be.” We probably led the league in preventing that. Shifts, shmifts 🙂

        I imagine if Dave Martinez is hired our aversion to shifts will go the way of rotary phones.

      • dclivejazz - Oct 7, 2015 at 4:27 PM

        Shifts are over-rated and go in and out of fashion.

  8. veejh - Oct 7, 2015 at 9:44 AM

    What went wrong? Pretty much everything. Haven’t we already hashed this out? I think it would be easier just to compile a list of things that went right.

    • bowdenball - Oct 7, 2015 at 11:32 AM

      That is wrong. The offense was good, possibly even exceeding expectations. And the starting pitching, while not historically good as some had predicted, was certainly good enough to win the division and then some.

    • Nats Fan Zee - Oct 7, 2015 at 11:50 AM

      1) Bryce
      2) Joe Ross
      3) could got through a list of 1st 1/2 this and 2nd 1/2 that but why? Guess the lesson learned is you don’t get to post season by being good 1/2 the time.

  9. natsfan1a - Oct 7, 2015 at 9:56 AM

    Gotta say that I think Chase nailed it in his final takeaway.

  10. chaz11963 - Oct 7, 2015 at 10:00 AM

    Chase makes a good point about the surprising amount of internal dissension, dysfunction, and embarrassing behavior at the end of the season. While certainly a lot of that can no doubt be attributed to MW’s poor leadership and communication, as well as Rizzo’s failure to understand team chemistry, nevertheless, it was bit surprising and embarrassing as Nats fan.

  11. Another_Sam - Oct 7, 2015 at 10:28 AM

    I know that stats are cool. But I have a subjective observation. I lost hope that this lineup could ever bail out the pitching. I’ll bet they led the league in solo home runs and games with less that a handful of hits. Over and over, rookie struggling pitchers and journeymen coming off arm woes handcuffed these guys. I’m not all that down on the pitching.

    • Section 222 - Oct 7, 2015 at 11:17 AM

      I’ll bet they led the league in solo home runs

      I’ll bet they didn’t. That would be the Astros. Nats were middle of the pack.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=0&type=0&season=2015&month=27&season1=2015&ind=0&team=0,ts&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&sort=9,d

      Yes, stats are cool.

      • trfwans - Oct 7, 2015 at 11:32 AM

        Astros seem to have won a big game last night thanks to a couple of solo HRs, too.

    • bowdenball - Oct 7, 2015 at 11:35 AM

      It would be awfully hard to be third in the national league in runs scored if you only hit HRs with the bases empty and were regularly handcuffed by “struggling pitchers and journeymen coming off arm woes”

      I get that some people don’t want to put faith in advanced stats like WAR and DRS and xFIP. But “runs scored” is hardly a controversial stat or a difficult one to understand. It’s very obviously the best way to evaluate an offense, and the Nats were very good at scoring runs. End of analysis.

  12. trfwans - Oct 7, 2015 at 11:30 AM

    One of the biggest botches occurred early on in spring training when Escobar was placed at third base when Rendon went down with what was thought to be a minor injury. That move boxed them in with Esco at third for the entire season. It’s unclear if this was MW’s or Rizzo’s idea, but you have to think that an experienced checkers or chess playing manager would have said “hey wait a minute, is this really a good idea when we have Danny Espinosa who can excel at ANY position we put him at?” But MW, as we all know now, was only playing tiddlywinks out there.

    • jd - Oct 7, 2015 at 11:41 AM

      I think the problem with your analysis is that the Nats did not consider Espinosa an every day player going into the season. As you recall they started Uggla ahead of him when the season started and once spring training was done they thought it would be hard to move Escobar to 2nd.

      I am not saying they were correct but I understand the thinking.

      • trfwans - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:02 PM

        My analysis says that this was a botch. Your analysis says “seemed like a good idea at the time.” Good managers/GMs look beyond that way of thinking when they make decisions, resulting in fewer such botches. At the time this decision was cemented, they didn’t need an every day player, they needed a short-term substitute.

      • Section 222 - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:15 PM

        You are absolutely right, jd. “Botches” have to be assessed based on information available at the time. Sure, in retrospect, looking at the health and performance of the players over the course of the year, it would have made sense to try to get Esco acclimated to 2B as soon as possible — and I sure hope that’s where they are headed for 2016 since Rendon is clearly a superior 3B and should play there exclusively next year. But no one, and I mean no one, had any faith in Espi’s hitting at the beginning of the season.

        Maybe trfwans knew it all along, but since he just started commenting here a few weeks ago, at least under this name, there’s no way to know.

      • trfwans - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:35 PM

        Section 222, I wasn’t aware that in order to make a post-mortem analysis of what went wrong, one has to have “called” the mistake contemporaneously when it was made. Did Mark and Chase do that with any of the mistakes they listed?

      • Section 222 - Oct 7, 2015 at 1:22 PM

        trf, no they didn’t. But they also weren’t assuming clairvoyance about the performance or health of players on the roster. jd took issue with your argument that a chess-playing manager would have put Espi at 3B at the beginning of the season, rather than ask Esco to move over there until Rendon was ready to go, and I agree with him.

      • trfwans - Oct 7, 2015 at 1:53 PM

        I’m not assuming clairvoyance about anything. I’m just saying that MW/Rizzo should have considered all possible longer-term situations/outcomes when they made the decision, and there’s no evidence they did so. They had no Plan B for the possibility that Escobar might not be an adequate everyday third baseman for the entire season. As I said, they boxed themselves into a corner, and that proved to be a major botch.

  13. edbrinkman - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:01 PM

    Besides lack of leadership by MW AND his entire staff, who are the real player leaders on this team? If they have some, what did they do to try to turn things around – anything? Closed door, player only meetings? I don’t know what went on in the clubhouse, but I don’t sense the Nats had any real player leaders – someone who could/would go into MW’s office and make some recommendations on how to improve things.

    • trfwans - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:17 PM

      I seem to have read of an occasion when Jayson Werth did exactly what you’re advocating here. I think it was written by that Barry BuyAVowel guy.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:23 PM

        I guess you really are new around here, after all.

      • Dave - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:55 PM

        Yep, the Blogfather’s last name is definitely a shibboleth. Easy to see who’s been here for years and who has just jumped on.

        Barry Svrluga, the Post’s first beat writer assigned to the Washington Nationals back in the day.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:30 PM

      Werth did “make some recommendations” to Matt Williams, as we know. But I submit that is not what the leader does in a clubhouse. He might do that on occasion, but mainly, the coaches should be acting as the conduit for that info. The guys like Werth, or Matty when he was playing, “make recommendations” to the other players. Of course, that’s what Papelbon would probably say he was doing, with Harper.

      Doesn’t matter who’s doing it, if they are doing it wrong.

      And FWIW, I thought they’d be OK as long as they stuck together and didn’t turn on each other, because once that happens, it’s all over.

      • trfwans - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:40 PM

        Really, except for Papelbon, none of them did turn on each other. They all turned on Matt Williams. The clubhouse was unified in that regard. I have yet to read any kind of “sorry about what happened to Matt” or “Matt got a raw deal, we really let him down” quote from a player. Have you?

  14. mauimo22 - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:25 PM

    I would add these to the list:
    1. Desmond’s errors.
    2. Desmond’s Ks.
    3. Ramos GIDP
    4. Offseason conditioning program – I mean, why so many injuries?
    5. Spring Training – no offense. People said it was just ST and yet it flowed over to the RS very quickly too.
    6. Lack of “small ball”. Base hits, sac flies, keep the line moving. Far too many Ks!
    7. Injuries to Werth, Span, and Rendon, and Zim were all pretty devastating. This is 1/2 of the team here that was counted on to produce.

    On the positive side, I liked:
    1. Clint Robinson – is a hitter. Needs a lot of practice at 1B. Do not play him in OF.
    2. MAT – gamer. Great offense and defense. Needs to continue to improve hitting. This guy is the real deal!
    3. Danny E’s improvement – really nice to see.
    4. Max’s work ethic and leadership.
    5. Stras’ nice pitching down the stretch.

    Recommendaitons:
    1. Keep Jordan Zimmerman, let the other FAs go.
    2. Get the injuries fixed and rehabbed. Let those guys play winter ball somewhere?
    3. Cut Storen. Slamming hand in locker? Really? Just like Matheus.
    4. Cut Pap. Gambled and lost. Move on. Dude is a cancer.
    5. Keep growing BP talent (Treinen, Rivero, etc). Maybe sign a veteran closer, maybe just go matchup / committee with home-grown talent?
    6. Should be #1 – hire a seasoned head coach. Let him select an elite staff of assistants. Hire Cal Ripkin, Jr as an assistant coach and see if he’s “groomable” for future HC.

    • bowdenball - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:33 PM

      There are a couple of these I agree with and others I mildly disagree with. But cutting Storen? That doesn’t make any sense. Storen is still under contract. Even if the Nats don’t want him be certainly would have value to other MLB teams. There’s no reason to cut someone when they can get you at least a prospect flier in a trade.

      Fixing and rehabbing injuries by having guys play winter ball also seems … not medically sound.

      • Dave - Oct 7, 2015 at 1:01 PM

        Whether we keep JZ.

        Oh, for an edit function.

    • natsguy - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:55 PM

      Winter Ball these days is pretty much only for marginal and minor league players. You need to Add Escobar GIDP. The only coaches in MLB are assistants. They are referred to as Managers.

      • homeparkdc - Oct 7, 2015 at 1:52 PM

        Ramos played winter ball in Venezuela and worked on his leg agility. Harper worked out all winter and sent tweets showing his weight lifting (so it was for ESPN, still counts). I think Espinosa works out at the Boras gym in the winter. OTOH, Rendon showed up at spring training over-weight, out-of-shape and sporting “lazy” hair. RZimm maybe didn’t work out enough because he shares a personal trainer at Werth’s house and Werth was hurt all winter. Let me just say that their big bucks spend in the winter, too. Anyone not in decent shape come spring training, probably means they don’t care. Rant over.

      • bowdenball - Oct 7, 2015 at 2:40 PM

        I’d say your rant was effectively over the second you tried to evaluate a player’s laziness based on his haircut.

    • Dave - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:59 PM

      I think Jordan Zimmermann will have something to say about where we “keep Jordan Zimmermann.”

  15. JamesFan - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:35 PM

    Here is my list:
    -The season-long loss of Denard Span. Excellent D and 200 hits at the top of the lineup not available..
    -Horrible bullpen–Rizzo built it; Williams mismanaged it.
    -Surprising, early decline of Zimmerman and Werth.
    -Aloof leadership and erratic decision-making by Williams.
    -Shabby management treatment of Roark and Storen.
    -Surprising lack of offense from Desmond and Ramos.

    Starting pitching was plenty good enough to win.

    • jskurtzke - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:59 PM

      That’s as good and brief a list as any. Now, let’s move onto 2016.

  16. Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:38 PM

    They were two games up on July 28. That’s your lede, right there.

    • natsguy - Oct 7, 2015 at 12:56 PM

      They were three up on July 31st.

      • bowdenball - Oct 7, 2015 at 1:09 PM

        They picked up a half-game on the Mets after April 27.

        Fun with arbitrary data sets!

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 8, 2015 at 12:32 AM

      July 28 will live in infamy.

  17. langleyclub - Oct 7, 2015 at 1:00 PM

    Agree that poor defense is the elephant in the room that is most commonly ignored when the Nats lost season is analyzed.

    Kudos to Escobar for having a career season with the bat (and for being one of the few regulars to play essentially a full season), but he is a defensive disaster at 3rd base. In addition to the metrics, there were several close games when he either botched bunt plays or simply didn’t get in position to field throws to third at key moments. Putting Yunel at 3rd which then forced Rendon to play 2nd, where is he below average, started the bad defense domino effect which hurt the team all year.

    At this point, not sure if Yunel can be a competent SS or 2B, but Anthony Rendon has to play 3B next year. He is a solid above-average 3B, and also think the yo-yo-ing Rendon between 2B and 3B didn’t help his offense.

    Jayson Werth is simply an awful OF now. He gets bad jumps, has poor range, turns flyouts into hits; singles into doubles and double into triples. Among my problems with MW (and this may be because of the lineup card incident), when the rosters expanded, the Nats never subbed in den Dekker (or Taylor when he was on the bench) for Werth late in games. Wolfman is a statue in LF; if you have to play him almost everyday, at least minimize the damage he does on defense by getting him out of the game in the 7th inning. Also, unless Werth has return to form at the plate, he should no longer be an automatic start in the OF. If he has a problem with notice, the Nats should put him on notice at the start of the season that his playing time may be spotty, and that he shouldn’t think of himself as playing every game regardless.

    Love Cliff Robinson, but he is huge liability in the OF (may have cost the Nats a loss in LA when Joe Ross pitched), and isn’t much better at first. Want Robinson to return, but he can’t be the Nats 4th OF option; he is an emergency OF at best. Robinson should be Ryan Zimmerman’s back up at 1B (where he will get plenty of at bats because RZ is always hurt), and the Nats need to add a solid defensive 4th OF (preferably a lefty, who will split time with MAT, and be a defensive replacement for Werth in the late innings).

    Not sure what the Nats are going to do at SS. Danny Espinosa is a solid defender, but not ready to proclaim that his bat justifies playing him everyday. As stated above, Escobar looked so immobile at 3B, hard to imagine that he’s an adequate defensive SS at this point. Trea Turner is the future, but not sure if the future starts in April 2016 (also, not sure if his future is at SS or 2b). Tough decision, but a very important one if the Nats defense is to improve next year.

    • sec112 - Oct 7, 2015 at 2:10 PM

      Agree with pretty much everything you said here. Particularly agree on giving Werth notice about playing time (this is on Rizzo, I think -it must be completely clear that the new manager is the boss and decides the lineup – not Werth), and on Espinosa not really proving he’s an every day player. My one difference would be that, as it stands, I would hesitate to consider MAT one of my top 3 outfielders. Despite his penchant for the big hit, his offense (and base running) is not satisfactory yet for every day. Personally, I’d bring someone else in (or retain Span) short term to give MAT another year to work on selectivity and base running.

      • langleyclub - Oct 7, 2015 at 2:53 PM

        I am a MAT fan, and I don’t see him as the everyday CF next year either. I think the Nats would ideally like to platoon him with a left-handed hitting CF (Parra, Fowler, Rasmus) who would also play LF to give Werth time off as well.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 8, 2015 at 12:34 AM

        I think it’s too soon to say what Michael A will be next year. He definitely surprised me with his learning curve this season. Much steeper than I expected. He made great strides, and he’s clearly coachable as anybody. He still won’t be Willie Mays, but he might well be very solid. Or not. There’s a reason they play the games.

  18. moozystar - Oct 7, 2015 at 1:04 PM

    If we all gonna toss in our 2 cents in, here is mine:

    Why it all went bad – 1) Leadership, it starts at the top and was bad all the way to the bottom. It manifest itself in decisions like the demotion of Drew and Tanner and not getting players like Epsi playing time that their performance deserved. (Conversely not sitting Desi for a few days early in the season so he could get his head on straight.) 2) Lack of conditioning and injury prevention. This is still a leadership issue but one that could be improved with good management. Many of the really bad injuries seemed to be muscle pulls. Conditioning and flexibility and letting players get some rest are the only ways to reduce those types of injuries. You can’t avoid them all but even if we avoided one it would have helped. 3) The human factor was ignored all season. These people are not robots, no matter how much we pay them they still have feelings. They require communications and courtesy. That means not warming up pitchers only to not using them, not scratching veteran players without speaking to them, and understanding that individuals care when they are demoted (to bench, pen, or set up role.)

    The good news is this roster is in pretty good shape for the long terms (which is what Rizzo planned all along.) Yes, we are losing some great players but you never know if they will be great next year and you never know who will surprise you, (think Epsi and Cilnt.) There are things that need to be addressed this off season but that is not uncommon. The key to 2016 is find a team leader who will take care of his players physically and mentally and treat them like humans so when you need super human results in the clutch they are there for you. Simply having a team that is all on the same page where everyone knows what is expected of them will be enough of an improvement to carry the day.

    Rizzo, get us a leader and let him lead!

    Just my 2 cents.

    • sec112 - Oct 7, 2015 at 2:19 PM

      One thing I’ve been confused about is how to reconcile the complaint about warming pitchers and not using them with the frequent complaint that MW should have had a righty or lefty warming just in case a particular batter got on base so that we didn’t end up with a bad matchup. Seems to me you can have one or the other. Either you warm pitchers without using them occasionally, or you settle for bad matchups occasionally.

      • moozystar - Oct 7, 2015 at 3:34 PM

        112
        Fair point. Not sure what the right mix is. One thing I do believe is that it is never as simple as it appears. There are lots of considerations that go into the mix but at the end of the day a good leader figures out what works to get the best possible performance out of his or her people. I think it is fair to say that in no way to the Nationals live up to their best possible performance.

      • sec112 - Oct 7, 2015 at 4:20 PM

        No argument there!

      • ArVAFan - Oct 7, 2015 at 6:51 PM

        I think the word “occasionally” is key there. Relief pitchers had been complaining about being warmed up multiple days in a row without being used, and then we’d wonder why they failed when they were finally called into the game.

        Since they were complaining to me, as an ordinary fan, at the Zims Foundation fundraiser over the summer, that told me that MW hadn’t learned from last year. I heard the same thing, but implied rather than stated, from a Nats employee I met in late summer: again, sounded as if he still hadn’t gotten the hang of it.

        “Bad matchup” can include a relief pitcher who’s been overused, or over-warmed. Or is that “warmed over?” Anyway, I sincerely hope our next manager does a better job on this aspect of the job. It would be hard to do worse, I think.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 8, 2015 at 12:39 AM

        Since they were complaining to me, as an ordinary fan, at the Zims Foundation fundraiser over the summer, that told me that MW hadn’t learned from last year.

        Wow. I don’t recall reading that before. That’s telling of a lot more than Matt’s bullpen use. Yowza. I would’ve put money on the Mets at that point. If I were the sort of person who does that sort of thing. Which I’m not.

        And it can always get worse.

      • natsfan1a - Oct 8, 2015 at 9:06 AM

        Indeed.

        “Wow. I don’t recall reading that before. That’s telling of a lot more than Matt’s bullpen use. “

  19. homeparkdc - Oct 7, 2015 at 2:05 PM

    By my calculation it’s 133 days until pitchers/catcher report. Go Nats !

  20. Candide - Oct 7, 2015 at 2:26 PM

    I know there will be a lot of changes next year, but looking at the team as constructed now, I’m very worried.

    Bill James established many years ago that on average, players peak about age 27. Obviously there are exceptions, but they run both ways.

    So I had a look at player ages next year, see which position players are going to be over 27:

    Werth
    Ramos
    Zimmerman
    Espinosa
    Escobar
    Robinson
    Span
    Moore
    Lobaton
    Uggla
    den Dekker
    Johnson

    Which of these guys do we expect to be better next year?

    I’d say Ramos and Lobaton, because they were both dreadful.

    Who do we think may well be worse?
    Werth and Zimmerman, if for no other reason than the impact of age and accumulated injuries.
    Escobar, because age 33 is getting on in years to be improving over a career year.

    The rest – a toss-up (and obviously some of them won’t be here next year). Let’s figure half of them decline.

    As for the guys who will be 27 or younger:

    Harper
    Taylor
    Rendon
    Turner

    Who in that group will get better? Figure Rendon, assuming he stays more or less injury-free.
    Taylor and Turner because they’re both young and talented and haven’t reached their peaks yet.

    The thing about Taylor and Turner, how will they compare to the guys they replace – Span and Desmond?

    Do we see Taylor’s production replacing Span’s? How about Turner vis a vis Desmond? Fewer strikeouts, to be sure, but almost certainly a lot less power.

    I don’t project Harper as having a better year, not because I expect him to flop but simply because this season was SO good (how many times did we hear it was “historic?”) that it would be insanely optimistic to expect next year to be even better.

    So in the absence of a lot of moves, this year’s team will be a year older, but I’m afraid it will also be significantly worse – at least at the plate.

    • bowdenball - Oct 7, 2015 at 3:00 PM

      Again, they don’t need to get better at the plate. They were third in runs scored in the National League. They need to get better on the other side of the ledger, preventing runs. Rendon at 3B, Turner at SS, Escobar/Espinosa at 2B, a manager more willing to deploy defensive replacements and shifts, and you’re pretty much there. Rendon’s health is the key, I think.

      Also I would be very surprised if they don’t make a huge move in the offseason. They’ve done so pretty much every year since they became a contender. They added Span after 2012, Fister after 2013, and Scherzer after 2014. This year I’m betting on a surprise position player addition. Heyward, maybe? Cespedes? Perhaps a trade for Lucroy or Frazier, two impressive talents whose teams have little to no shot at contending in the brutal NL Central before their deals are up?

      • chaz11963 - Oct 7, 2015 at 4:31 PM

        I don’t know BB. Their run production is a bit problematic. They score runs in bunches and need more consistency and better hitting with RISP.

        Heyward would be a great pickup. I wouldn’t even mind seeing them move Bryce to CF and picking up a big bat corner OFer, such as J Upton.

      • bowdenball - Oct 7, 2015 at 5:12 PM

        1. Everyone scores runs in bunches. That’s how run-scoring works. That’s why they call them rallies. Also it’s hard to score a bunch of runs off a really good pitcher. That’s what makes them really good pitchers.

        2. They hit .251/.321.403 overall and .250/.3331/.391 with RISP. They were effectively the same in both situations. They also finished second in the NL in sac flies and 5ht in sacrifice hits (bunts).

        We’ve been over this and over this and over this. There was nothing wrong with their hitting, both overall and situationally. Our suspicions to the contrary are simply confimation bias.

      • NatsLady - Oct 7, 2015 at 5:31 PM

        I would love to have Heyward but jeeeeeeez he will be expensive.

      • chaz11963 - Oct 7, 2015 at 5:43 PM

        I don’t think so, BB. When I say bunches, I mean they either score a lot or nothing:

        http://natsbaseball.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-offense-is-perfectly-fine-but-is-it.html

      • chaz11963 - Oct 7, 2015 at 5:52 PM

        BB, also .250ish BA was barely mediocre this year in MLB, and the Nats team offensive WAR ranked them right in the middle of the MLB. I don’t disagree that defense was the biggest weakness and needs the most improvement, offense was not as good as we might think either.

      • Candide - Oct 7, 2015 at 6:07 PM

        Again, they don’t need to get better at the plate.

        My concern is that absent some big moves, they’re going to get WORSE at the plate. Look at the guys whose production is likely to fall off. Do you think the 3-4 guys who are likely to get better will make up the falloff of the 6-7 who are likely to get worse?

      • letswin3 - Oct 7, 2015 at 6:58 PM

        Chaz, Heyward would fit that bill nicely … a lefty right fielder (who can really chase em down, btw) who would facilitate moving Harper to CF. Unfortunately, you probably wouldn’t want to bat him either in front of or behind Harper because both are lefties. I mention that because the Nat’s need to get either Harper, or the guy following him, more pitches. I’m not sure where that would leave Werth and Taylor relative to the LF position?? Personally, I think Taylor has improved his selectivity at the plate over the second half of the season, and would be in the argument about who is the everyday starter. Another possibility would be to go out and get a big power right-handed bat to play either RF or CF, and hit behind or in front of Harper.

    • chaz11963 - Oct 7, 2015 at 4:33 PM

      Ramos’ offense was disappointing this season, especially since we were all anxious to see what he could do playing healthy a full season. But, he was actually pretty good on defense:

      http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=c&stats=fld&lg=all&qual=y&type=0&season=2015&month=0&season1=2015&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0

    • sec112 - Oct 7, 2015 at 4:59 PM

      I share your concern – I started raising this point early this season. Basically, I think a big part of what went wrong this year is that Rizzo bet on the rising arcs of the young players exceeding the declining arcs of the older players. And he lost the bet, in part because one of the key younger players (Rendon) had a lost year due (we hope) to injury, and in part because essentially every older player (Werth, Zimmerman, Desmond, Fister, Janssen) and several of the players in the middle (In addition to Ramos, I would put Zimmermann in this category) declined more rapidly than hoped (Espinosa and Escobar being the exceptions). Some will argue that injuries aren’t the same as declines, but older players get injured more and return more slowly.

      I also think there will be a major addition this winter – though the addition is unlikely to be below 27!

  21. langleyclub - Oct 7, 2015 at 2:29 PM

    Some insider on MLB TV said today that the Nats will likely deal Strasburg in the off-season. Anything is possible (apparently, the Nats were close to sending SS to Texas last winter for an elite middle infield prospect and handful of other prospects) but doubt it because:

    – SS will be a FA in 2017 (and his agent is Boras and Boras’ players rarely (as in almost never) agree to contract extensions); the Nats won’t get much of a return on a one year rental with an injury history;
    – The Nats still think that they can win next year even after this year’s FA losses; hard to imagine that the starting rotation could pitch on a championship level without JZ and SS.
    – Boras is as close to the Nats as any organization; unless SS has let it be known that he is not re-signing with Washington, the Nats probably have the edge on every team in baseball if they want to keep him
    – SS was the first piece that the Lerner’s acquired that signaled the Nats were ready to compete for W-S; I don’t think that they want to let him go;
    – SS is a monster talent. He is fully capable (more capable) of a Jake Arrieta type of season; would be awful to have suffered through SS trials and tribulations only to watch him dominate baseball somewhere else.

    • bowdenball - Oct 7, 2015 at 2:46 PM

      It’s certainly an interesting idea, but it’s only possible if the Nats think Giolito is ready to take a spot in the rotation by the end of April. I’m doubtful. One problem- where do you send him? The Dodgers don’t need to deal prospects, they can just sign one of the plethora or free agent starters instead. The Padres make sense but I doubt they’re willing to trade away elite prospects to the Nats again, the PR hit would be tremendous. The Cubs and Twins certainly have the young talent to spare, but I doubt they could sign him to an extension. The Yankees and Red Sox? Those are probably the best options.

      Also if the Nats deal Strasburg there will be a perception that they’re in rebuilding mode, even if it’s clearly a good deal for the club. I’m not sure the Lerners want that perception out there.

      • virginiascopist - Oct 7, 2015 at 3:11 PM

        I think it may depend on how the current crop of free agent pitchers shakes out. For example, I expect the Cubs will pick up a FA pitcher this off season (possibly even JZim), so I don’t expect they would trade for Stras on top of whoever they get.

        Ditto for the Red Sox and Yankees. They both also might just choose to wait till he hits free agency.

        Maybe if there any contenders left who don’t get what they wanted in terms of a starting pitcher, something can be worked out, but I kind of doubt it. Also, I don’t know what the possible return would be for just one year of Stras — nothing was worked out last off season when they could have had him for two years.

        Lastly, do the Padres have any elite prospects left?

      • letswin3 - Oct 7, 2015 at 7:12 PM

        Stras is probably worth more to us than anyone else for his final year under control … plus, he’s finally become a lights-out, shut down, top of almost any rotation pitcher. The guy who pitched after his DL stint is someone who can be the guy who gets us over the hump in ’16. Right now I consider him better than Jordan Zimmermann. Last offseason I would have swapped him even up for Betts, but he is a different pitcher at the end of the season. My guess is that he will want to move back to the west coast after ’16, and we may not have enough dollars for him, Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Scherzer and Harper (I’m thinking they just might extend him with an enormous contract) this offseason)… we’ll have to wait and see.

  22. nataddicted - Oct 7, 2015 at 3:14 PM

    Three words: BABE RUTH IMPRESSION.

    Clearly there was bad ju-ju at work here. It would have taken three minutes to clear it away, but it reared it’s ugly head constantly. Stuff like Jayson’s wrist, and Stras rolling an ankle in the weight room.

    Somehow it had an opposite reaction on Harper.

    • nataddicted - Oct 7, 2015 at 3:16 PM

      And another one, Jayson does something INCREDIBLY STUPID AND ILLEGAL, right in front of a police officer!

    • dhamm6500 - Oct 7, 2015 at 3:32 PM

      I’ve felt like he did do the impression, just not with a bunch of cameras around.

      I wonder if Mark could ask someone, off the record record of course, then tell Chase, who could report that he heard from a “reliable source” that he did, or didn’t, do the Babe Ruth Impression.

      • moozystar - Oct 7, 2015 at 3:39 PM

        That would explain everything!

  23. thewerthwhisperer - Oct 7, 2015 at 4:38 PM

    No one here has listed the real reason why the Nats have ben such a big disappointment – they let Teddy win!
    I said it from the day it happened, and I have the little pin to prove I was at Nats Park that day, when, amidst the jubilant fans screaming for Teddy, I turned to my daughter and said, “Big mistake.”

    OK, now what? How do we turn back the clock? Her’s my suggestion:
    1) Eliminate all the recent additions and go back to the original racing Presidents.
    2) Then have them re-race in slow motion starting from the END of the race, all the way back to the Oval Office on the Jumbotron.
    3) Then start over and Teddy loses again!

    BTW, did anyone see that the Nats fired Terrance? Last game he told me that that he does the same for the OKCity Thunder. This could be the death knell for any chance for Durant to come to DC. The curse of Teddy meets the curse of Les Bullez.

    • trfwans - Oct 7, 2015 at 6:51 PM

      I read your recent column to this effect in the Washington Post. It didn’t make any sense there either.

      • NatsNut - Oct 7, 2015 at 10:30 PM

        Now, now. Let’s be neighborly. It’s as good a reason as any that this team tanked.

  24. philipd763 - Oct 7, 2015 at 4:49 PM

    Rizzo is what went wrong with the Nationals in 2015 because he hired Matt Williams, then continued to stick with him when it was obvious Williams was extremely deficient. I suspect Rizzo is a control freak who allows very little freedom for his employees to have independent ideas. That is why he clashed with Davey Johnson constantly. He then hired a stiff, uptight, by the book manager and got burned. If you listen to Rizzo and Williams talk, it becomes quite obvious they have very similar personalities. He stuck with Williams to the very end when he might have turned the season around by firing him in August. I feel quite certain that, had the Ted Lerner not ordered Williams fired, he’d be the manager next season. The Lerners should have fired Rizzo too.

    • chaz11963 - Oct 7, 2015 at 6:29 PM

      Philip I think you may be somewhat on track but there’s needs to be some basis for your assertions.

      There is some insider reporting about Rizzo’s personality, and it’s more along the lines of him being emotional, outspoken, and driven. I have no doubt Rizzo is very strong personality and from the reports, likely a bit of hot head at times. MW, from his playing days, was also known to be very intense and emotional but tended to be able to control those feelings and outbursts, and was withdrawn on the field because of that. That seems to have translated into MW’s management style as well.

      I don’t know, but tend to doubt that the Lerner’s forced Rizzo to fire MW. Rizzo has demonstrated himself to be a bottom-line oriented business guys- look at the way he handled the Storen and Clippard situations. Yes, it seems both Rizzo and MW are not good communicators and don’t manage difficult “people situations” well and that combined in 2015 to produce some horrific and embarrassing situations.

  25. NIWatcher - Oct 7, 2015 at 5:04 PM

    “CBS Sports and The Washington Post recently published stories that were excellent reporting, but they highlighted some key big-picture concerns.”

    Can someone link to these two stories referred to by Chase?

  26. Steve silock - Oct 7, 2015 at 5:23 PM

    Timely is the key word 4 the Nats seadon……lack of Timely hitting all summer….and lack of Timely relief pitching….

  27. ArVAFan - Oct 7, 2015 at 6:10 PM

    Three questions I’d like to ask during the manager interviews:

    1. Bryce says something inappropriate on Twitter. How do you discipline him without hurting the team?
    2. You think Max needs to be pulled (no, it’s not a no-hitter). What do you say when you go out to the mound and he says “I want the @%# ball”?
    3. Werth needs a day off. Or more. How do you tell him?

    I’m not saying there are single right answers there, but how they say they’ll handle some of those player issues would give some insight into their thought process. (Plus I’d love to hear the answers).

  28. fpa4356 - Oct 7, 2015 at 6:51 PM

    What do you think about the possibility of trading RZim ? There are lots of teams that would want that bat, and the AL teams could have it without (most of) the injury concerns, in that he’s far more likely to stay healthy if he is DH. If RZim can be traded, then Werth can be moved to 1st base.

    • ArVAFan - Oct 7, 2015 at 6:54 PM

      Remember, RZ has a no-trade clause, and a personal services contract for his post-playing years. Sure, he could waive those, but would he?

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 8, 2015 at 12:21 AM

        Ryan has been about as clear as the English language allows him to be. He ain’t goin nowhere.

    • npb99 - Oct 7, 2015 at 7:53 PM

      RZ’s defense seemed quite good this year (stat-free observation here!). So in the AL he could play some 1B as well as DH. But with his injury history of late, Nats would have to kick in a huge percentage of his salary.

  29. fpa4356 - Oct 7, 2015 at 7:06 PM

    Thank you, I did not consider that. Still, I am sure RZim does not want to be a millstone around the team’s neck, so if the right deal came along, maybe he would waive the no-trade provision (and hold on to the post-playing-career spot).

    • NatsNut - Oct 8, 2015 at 5:31 AM

      I have a feeling he’d retire first.

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