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What was the turning point for the 2015 Nationals?

Oct 8, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT

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 our second installment, we look at the turning point for the 2015 Nationals…



Mark Zuckerman:

There were any number of moments throughout 2015 when the Nationals squandered an opportunity to do something big that might alter the course of their season. But I’ll forever point to two series that defined this year and prevented this club from winning the NL East. One came as July turned to August. The other came during early September. Both came against the Mets, with not a single win recorded by the Nats.

When the Nationals arrived at Citi Field on July 31, they held a 3-game lead in the division. They had been in sole possession of first place every day since June 20 (a day remembered more for Max Scherzer no-hitting the Pirates) but hadn’t been able to seize complete control of the NL East.

The Mets had just completed a tumultuous week that included a blown save with two outs in the ninth against the Padres and a botched trade that would have brought Carlos Gomez to New York and sent Wilmer Flores to Milwaukee. They were in complete desperation mode.

The Nationals had just made a bold, somewhat head-scratching trade of their own, bringing in Jonathan Papelbon and bumping Drew Storen to a setup role. But they weren’t showing much sense of urgency otherwise, refusing to align the top of their rotation to face the Mets. As the team in front, they felt the pressure was on New York to catch them.

Then, as they prepared to take batting practice at Citi Field, the Nationals learned the Mets had completed a blockbuster acquisition minutes before the 4 p.m. trade deadline: Yoenis Cespedes. All of sudden, New York had the big bat its lineup had sorely lacked all season. All of a sudden, that franchise was reinvigorated. All of a sudden, the Nats wondered if they were in trouble.

They wouldn’t have been, had they merely been able to finish off games that were there for the taking. The opener of that series was a low-scoring, nail-biter, a 1-1 game that went into extra innings before Felipe Rivero (pitching his third inning of relief) gave up a walk-off homer to Flores of all people. The next night, the Nats led 2-1 in the seventh, only to blow that lead and lose. Sunday night’s nationally televised series finale saw Jordan Zimmermann serve up three home runs in rapid fire, all but ending that game.

Just like that, the Nationals and Mets were tied for the division lead. Just like that, the race was on. Just like that, the Nats felt pressure for the first time.

They didn’t handle that pressure well. Over the next six weeks, they stumbled and bumbled their way through some torturous stretches, unable to score runs during a brutal West Coast trip, unable to protect leads with a bullpen that was now imploding. The Mets, meanwhile, went on an insane run (31-11) with a lineup that had morphed from baseball’s worst to best seemingly overnight thanks to the Cespedes acquisition.

Yet when the two rivals met again on Labor Day in D.C., the division was still there for the taking. The Mets led by 4 games and were teetering on the brink a bit, having just lost 2-of-3 in Miami and having seen Matt Harvey incite a firestorm by declaring he would be adhering to a strict innings limit in his first season back from Tommy John surgery.

Momentum was turning back in the Nationals’ direction, even more so after Wilson Ramos’ grand slam gave them a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the fourth in the series opener. But Scherzer couldn’t hold that lead, giving up three home runs, and then the Nats’ bullpen couldn’t keep the game close, giving up three more runs in the seventh during what wound up an 8-5 loss.

As bad as that was, the Nationals still had a chance to take the remaining two games in the series and keep the pressure on. They once again were in fabulous position to do just that when Cespedes misplayed Michael Taylor’s bases-loaded single to center into a 4-run Little League grand slam. Up 7-1 in the seventh inning, they merely needed to close this one out … which they couldn’t do. The most disastrous inning of the season saw Nationals relievers (headlined by Storen) give up six runs on only three hits.

The mood in the home clubhouse that night was as down as any non-postseason loss in team history. Players knew that might well have been the end of their season right there. They certainly knew it 24 hours later, when Storen was brought in to face Cespedes in the eighth inning of a 2-2 game and immediately served up a 2-run homer, completing the Mets’ series sweep and leaving the division deficit at an insurmountable 7 games.

Two series. Six games. Six losses. Four games lost after a lead was blown in the sixth inning or later. Flip the outcome of those four games, and the Nationals end up 87-75 with the Mets 86-76.

Yep, flip the outcome of four games they led late, and the Nats are 2015 NL East champions.

Chase Hughes: 

The trade deadline series against the New York Mets was clearly a defining weekend for the Nationals, who entered the matchup with a division lead and afterwards never led again. That was the weekend where the Mets took control of the NL East and didn’t look back. They had just acquired Tyler Clippard and Yoenis Cespedes and were a rejuvenated team better equipped for the pennant race.

I remember being in the visitors clubhouse at Citi Field where the Nationals were waiting to play that Friday game. MLB Network was on all the TVs and they broke the news of Cespedes trade to many members of the Nationals. Several players expressed surprise at the deal, which occurred right up against the 4 p.m. deadline, especially given the relatively low price tag for such a talent. A group of veterans playing cards at a table in the middle of the locker room paused their game to watch the coverage. They all knew it was big.

The Mets series was bad and certainly shifted momentum in the NL East, but I think what happened next was just as pivotal, and it perhaps epitomized the Nationals’ inability to take advantage of opportunities when they desperately needed to in 2015.

The Nationals left New York for Washington with a seven-game homestand awaiting them. Their opponents were the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, two teams that by then were clearly not heading to the playoffs. The Nats, on the other hand, were a first-place team for most of the season up until that point and had just gotten Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman back from the disabled list.

The opportunity ahead of them was to reset against some bad teams while at home. That plan was even more important given the stretch that followed the homestand, their longest West Coast trip of the season including trips through Los Angeles to see the Dodgers and San Francisco to face the Giants.

But instead of beating up on Arizona and Colorado, the Nats went 3-4 on that homestand. The week began with Doug Fister giving up five earned runs (including three homers) in the first game against the Diamondbacks and ended with Max Scherzer getting outdueled by Rockies pitcher Yohan Flande in the finale before they hit the road.

That homestand was also the beginning of Drew Storen’s downfall. He blew two games against the Rockies during that stretch, the first of which featured a jawdropping grand slam by Carlos Gonzalez.

Storen was never the same after that series and, I would argue, neither were the Nationals. They lost six of their next seven games, including a sweep to the Giants at AT&T Park.

The biggest reason why I think that homestand was the turning point, though, is how the Nationals reacted to it. It was clear to most that they underachieved by going 3-4 during that stretch and it was clear that one of the most difficult parts of their schedule was awaiting them.

But the Nats themselves didn’t see it that way. Manager Matt Williams wouldn’t assess the homestand as a whole and got testy when pressed on how his team could possibly improve if they never looked back:

“That’s what you would think. But what I would think as the manager of this club is that we must play tomorrow. And if we don’t win tomorrow, or have the plan to win tomorrow, then what the hell are we doing here? That’s what I think. So, for me, it is in the past,” he said defensively.

I asked Werth how disappointing the homestand was, especially given the road they had up ahead. He took issue with me calling it “disappointing” and didn’t fully answer the question.

Even Zimmerman was more defiant than usual in his postgame availability, saying the Nationals just needed to “stay within striking distance” of the Mets. He was frustrated with several questions about what many of us thought were emerging problems for the Nats.

“You can’t look at baseball on a day-to-day basis. That’s why it’s so hard for you guys. You guys have to write things that really don’t matter because you can’t talk about stuff every day in baseball. I’m glad I don’t have your job,” he added.

I walked out of the clubhouse that day and thought for the first time in the season that this team was in trouble. Sticking to a season-long message is one thing, but they seemed yet to realize what many fans and those who cover the team had already been saying, that the time to turn their season around and play to their capabilities was running out.

Yes, they were still in the race because the NL East was the worst division in baseball, but that shouldn’t have been enough. It was only a matter of time before somebody figured it out and went on a run. Despite the Nats’ optimism on that particular day, it was the Mets who instead became that team.


  1. rgsie - Oct 8, 2015 at 6:55 AM

    It was that last west coast trip…completely fell apart…LA, SF, and Colorado.

    • virginiascopist - Oct 8, 2015 at 7:00 AM

      Yeah, I was going to say the sweep in San Francisco. As I recall, it corresponded with the Mets getting swept by the Pirates, so we had a perfect opportunity to pick up ground on them.

      But I also remember thinking after Drew gave up the grand slam to Carlos Gonzalez that the season is over.

  2. ArVAFan - Oct 8, 2015 at 7:31 AM

    The inning in which MW brought Storen in, and kept him in, to lose a 7-1 lead. In my perception, up to that inning there was hope that the managers and players could turn things around. Might not have worked out that way, but after that inning, I wrote off the season (oh, I still showed up for the games. Because, well, it’s better than no baseball.) But my postseason expectations, which had been teetering, went to zero and stayed there.

    Or, if you want to be all existential about it, it’s the moment that MW angered the baseball gods by deciding not to do his Babe Ruth routine.

    • adcwonk - Oct 8, 2015 at 1:27 PM

      The inning in which MW brought Storen in, and kept him in, to lose a 7-1 lead.

      I often think of that inning as the inning that the Nats lost the division. Granted that’s a bit simplistic.

      However — don’t put that all on Storen. Treinen gave up 2 hits and a walk that inning, and Rivero faced two batters and walked them both — all of that before Storen came in. And, of course, Paps gave up the HR the following inning (to Nieuwenhuis, batting under .200 at the time). That was definitely a “group-fail” bullpen failure

  3. chaz11963 - Oct 8, 2015 at 7:39 AM

    I do agree with Chase, there seemed to be a lack of sense of urgency. Perhaps, even arrogance. It was almost as if they just expected to show up and they would win games. That certainly isn’t quantifiable, so I guess it’s hard to defend, but after watching mostly these same guys for the past 4 years, they just seemed to lack the drive I used to see. Maybe that’s due to poor leadership and the morale issues we have seen surface.

  4. iconicwoodencap - Oct 8, 2015 at 7:48 AM

    Certainly the baseball gods. IMHO, It also showed his players a bit about his character. Reneging on a promise. Unable to loosen up and have fun. A defensive and rigid response that signaled a distancing from the players.

    • ArVAFan - Oct 8, 2015 at 8:50 AM

      Yeah, he didn’t have to do it in front of the media or fans: the promise was made to the players (maybe in a moment of actual frivolity when he let his guard down for a second). As you say, perhaps symbolic of the problems, although not a major problem in itself.

      • trfwans - Oct 8, 2015 at 10:17 AM

        As I recall, it was the media that dragged the Babe Ruth promise out of Williams. The footage of him doing the impersonation when he was a player surfaced, and in one of his press conferences he was asked if he’d ever do it again and the promise that he would if they won 10 straight resulted.

        Really, the players probably didn’t care one way or the other about it. The significance of the whole Babe Ruth saga was that it revealed to the public a pattern that the players were dealing with throughout MW’s tenure, namely that he was not a man of his word. If he said he would do something, in the end he never did. You can’t manage successfully that way.

      • ArVAFan - Oct 8, 2015 at 10:33 AM

        Oh, like promising Danny E playing time, and then not coming through with either the playing time or an explanation? Again, a symptom of a communication problem as well as a management problem.

      • natsfan1a - Oct 8, 2015 at 11:05 AM

        The media had been showing the old footage. It was FP who asked him about it in an interview during the winning streak.

      • trfwans - Oct 8, 2015 at 11:18 AM

        FP is media. Broadcast media. As he often says, he’s wearing makeup now.

      • natsfan1a - Oct 8, 2015 at 11:25 AM

        I was thinking of media who are not associated with the team.

  5. JayB - Oct 8, 2015 at 7:57 AM

    So Chase is two for two and his two takes looking back on it are tracking very well with my takes in real time……Those red flags were so clear to me and as I pointed them out in my very poor communication way…..most of you just keep saying that I was a troll who was just saying negative things because that is all I could do….Some know that I post when I see bad baseball or bad leadership by MW, Rizzo or Zimm Werth Types….and this season was full of all of that.

    • Sonny G 10 - Oct 9, 2015 at 12:06 AM

      JayB, FWIW if you would look for something good, something positive, and post those comments once in a while, it would give you more credibility when you post the negative stuff; at least it would with me. It would prove you’re not a troll.

  6. natsguy - Oct 8, 2015 at 7:58 AM

    The SF series was what finished it. The 7-1 game confirmed it.

  7. Joe Seamhead - Oct 8, 2015 at 8:28 AM

    I knew the club was in trouble when they got swept by what was then last place Cincinnati. I also was at the Colorado game when Storen gave up the grand slam, and the Mets game when Williams managed the team to a loss. I left those two games totally disheartened. There were a lot of low points this year, but the sweep in Cincy was very telling.

    • sec112 - Oct 8, 2015 at 9:18 AM

      Interesting pick. It really was a foreshadowing of the season and possibly an indicator of the team’s character. As I recall, the Nats led all three games and lost them from the 6th inning on. Also, this was when there was that issue with Votto yelling at Harper, after which the Nats response was . . . Well basically to fold like a cheap suit, blowing three leads in a row in the face of the challenge. Which pretty much ended up being the story of the season. Not the turning point, but a moment of clarity.

    • bowdenball - Oct 8, 2015 at 10:18 AM

      The Storen game was disheartening, but I’m not sure why a sweep on the road to a mediocre team was telling one way or another. The 100 win 2015 Cardinals lost three in a row to that same Cincinnati team (except without Cueto) three weeks ago. Last year’s Nats team got swept by last place Philadelphia at one point and went on to win 96 games.

      Every team loses many games and series to inferior teams. It’s a long season. Stuff happens.

      • sec112 - Oct 8, 2015 at 11:14 AM

        Not that they lost, but how they lost. They were challenged by Votto and responded by blowing three leads to a mediocre team. Yes – even great teams get swept by a lousy team from time to time. But this series can be seen as a window into what ultimately brought them down.

  8. Mrsb loves the Nats - Oct 8, 2015 at 8:37 AM

    Im with Chase…. again… (I agreed with him in the last piece that he and MZ did, Part 1). That 3-4 homestead against the Dbacks and Rockies did it for me. Leaving Storen in to face CarGo, lord I remember that moment like it was yesterday.

    Other stuff just compounded the issue, like the 1st Mets sweep and then the 2nd Mets sweep… The disaster of the WC road trip…Then when the last 2 weeks of the season when the Nats still had a chance and they seemed to give up.

  9. Mrsb loves the Nats - Oct 8, 2015 at 8:43 AM

    But the Nats themselves didn’t see it that way. Manager Matt Williams wouldn’t assess the homestand as a whole and got testy when pressed on how his team could possibly improve if they never looked back:

    “That’s what you would think. But what I would think as the manager of this club is that we must play tomorrow. And if we don’t win tomorrow, or have the plan to win tomorrow, then what the hell are we doing here? That’s what I think. So, for me, it is in the past,” he said defensively.

    There was a lot about MW that bugged me but the most glaring thing was his penchant to always say ‘ (insert nothingness)… and we have a game tomorrow.’ I used to think, well I’ll be danged. What about today’s game. What did you learn from today’s game that can help you with tomorrow’s game.

    Seems nothing since he has Storen face Cargo and Cespedes twice.. and then remember the Cards series when he had Jansen go out like 2 nights in a row… Don’t get me started… ugh,

    No sense of urgency. And tomorrow eventually caught up to him. It took him until game 155 to acknowledge this disaster of a season, given expectations.

  10. npb99 - Oct 8, 2015 at 8:57 AM

    Looking back on the last four years, have the Nats ever played well under pressure? They won the division twice going away, with healthy leads in September. Then played tight in the playoffs and lost. This was their first real battle down the stretch for a division title and they embarrassed themselves.
    What is the solution to that kind of team make-up? I honestly don’t know, except to keep trying of course.

  11. jeromeaquino - Oct 8, 2015 at 8:58 AM

    For me it was the last series against Baltimore. They dropped 3. The first game in that series was awful. They lost to a bad team trying to give the game away. That was a huge game because the Nats were starting to pick-up ground and could have put themselves in position to have a meaningful final 3 games with the Mets. Instead, it was one of the worst performances in a big game that I have ever seen. Just bad.

  12. jfmii - Oct 8, 2015 at 9:16 AM

    In my opinion, it was the Carlos Gonzalez grand slam off Storen. But at the time, we could not have known it would be the start of a horrific trend. Storen had been so good, so effective up to that point, and that included some outings after Papelbon arrived. But in hindsight, this moment would be the beginning of something that went terribly wrong with Drew’s ability to get outs without giving up runs. If you want to blame it on Papelbon’s acquisition, ok, but that is another only related topic. For those like me who thought the Papelbon trade was a good move to bolster a teetering bullpen, blowing the 3-run lead was a sign that what we thought was a given (a strong outing every time Storen pitched), would become a disaster almost every time he was summoned thereafter.

    • natsguy - Oct 8, 2015 at 9:20 AM

      Did it occur to you that Papelbon might have been getting in Storen’s head after he got here.

      • Joe Seamhead - Oct 8, 2015 at 9:35 AM

        Well, if that’s what happened to Drew Storen then it doesn’t speak very highly about him. He’s paid to pitch, when he’s told to pitch, not to decide when and where he’ll pitch.

      • NatsLady - Oct 8, 2015 at 10:20 AM

        No, I don’t think so. When Pap first got here he was at his most charming, chatting up Storen in the bullpen, etc. He was getting a fresh start on a contending team, he was the anointed closer, and he was pitching well.

        It was when things WEREN’T going his way that he lost control of himself. Remember, he gave up the winning run in the 7-1 loss, and blew a couple of other saves, and the team started to slump and save opportunities were just not there, and then Harper publicly criticized him. Boom. `

      • Section 222 - Oct 8, 2015 at 12:32 PM

        Nope, didn’t occur to me, and if he was, then who’s fault was that? Drew’s problems were his own dang fault, no matter how much of a jerk Pap turned out to be.

  13. exposremains - Oct 8, 2015 at 9:23 AM

    To me, the team showed in the first few weeks of April what kind of team they were and never really changed after that so none of their failures came as a surprise or turning point after that. Bad bullpen, bad def(remember the red sox game). I expressed my concern then so did others and we were all ridiculed and told it’s still early.

    • npb99 - Oct 8, 2015 at 9:28 AM

      The guy who scolded others along those lines is no longer commenting on this blog. He made some good points along the way, but was intolerably patronizing to everyone who expressed concerns in April and May.

    • NatsLady - Oct 8, 2015 at 10:25 AM

      The best team in baseball (Toronto) was 23-29 on May 31 and 1/2 game out of last place in the AL East. I was one of those who was NOT ready to say the team “showed what kind of team they were” in the first few weeks of April. And I won’t be next year, either.

      • exposremains - Oct 8, 2015 at 11:23 AM

        The Blue Jays took serious steps to make their team better. The problem the Nats had in April stayed the same throughout the year. They looked to me like big problems not easily fixable. Too many players playing out of position, reliance on unproven rookies and lightning in a bottle bullpen guys, players playing for a contract and a manager that had no experience for a WS team. Next year, I will still point out the problems if I see them.

    • adcwonk - Oct 8, 2015 at 1:34 PM

      The problem the Nats had in April stayed the same throughout the year.

      But that’s demonstrably untrue. In April they were hitting terribly (and they were 10-13) — but as a team batted .270 in May (18-9) and finished near the top in runs scored this year.

      • npb99 - Oct 8, 2015 at 3:59 PM

        That’s cherry-picking, wonk. Of course, some things changed, but the items expos points out remained a problem. Another one that didn’t change was poor fundamental and defense,

      • adcwonk - Oct 8, 2015 at 9:31 PM

        That’s cherry-picking, wonk. Of course, some things changed, but the items expos points out remained a problem. Another one that didn’t change was poor fundamental and defense,

        A lot of folks here complained about hitting in April. It was not a problem the rest of the year (except in July). The BP seemed decent enough until July.

        I agree that poor fundamentals and defense plagued the team all year, but I don’t think the problems that showed in April were the ones that sunk the sesason.

  14. jfmii - Oct 8, 2015 at 9:50 AM

    natsguy: Storen is a professional. If Storen had pitched in the 8th like he did in the 9th, the move to get Papelbon would have strengthened the team and given the Nationals more wins than they otherwise would have gotten.. 8th or 9th, shouldn’t have mattered. Betances carried the Yanks pitching the 8th all year. You simply can not blame Storen’s woes on Rizzo’s trade. And if Papelbon IS the reason why Storen imploded???, well, his performance is now in the books either way, and from where I sit, he was in the middle of every failure the Nationals have endured since 2012. And believe me, until this latest, I was a big fan of Drew’s, big supporter.

    • NatsLady - Oct 8, 2015 at 10:30 AM

      Absolutely. By that time Storen had racked up enough saves that he was going to make plenty in arbitration no matter what, so it wasn’t a matter of finances. When Pap first came here you could see immediately that he was a superior pitcher to Storen, smooth, smart, tough. That’s not to say it will be that way forever–Paps will get old, and hopefully Storen will get smarter and tougher. With any luck, they will both evolve on someone else’s roster.

      • jd - Oct 8, 2015 at 11:45 AM

        I completely reject the notion that Paplebon was ever proven to be better than Storen. Not before he got here, not during his tenure here either. I think Storen has the superior arsenal and also had the better results.

        It is a true statement that Storen does seem to blow up but I think you need to consider the following. Every relief pitcher and/or closer has players who are a bad matchup for them, as an example Carlos Gonzalez is a bad matchup for Storen. It’s important that your manager and pitching coach know this fact and not put the pitcher in a situation which is likely to go badly.

        I also concede that Drew reacted very badly to the Colorado loss which led to subsequent loses and brought back demons from previous post seasons. That is clearly a Storen Weakness and as a closer he better figure out a way to have the ability to forget bad losses and move on, Mariano Rivera blew a world series game 7 and several games to the Red Sox in the year they came back from 0-3. His secret was that he never took these losses to the mound the next time he was in these situations, he also knew he could get the hitters out.

        Having said that, I wouldn’t completely dismiss Storen’s 1.34 ERA for all of 2014 and the 1st half of 2015 or his 29 saves in 31 opportunities. I wouldn’t throw him out with the trash and hand the ball to Rivero who incidentally failed each time he was given the ball in both Mets series.

      • Section 222 - Oct 8, 2015 at 4:52 PM

        Late to this discussion but I’m with NL on this. Perhaps Drew has better pure stuff, but there’s not doubt Pap is the better closer. 349 career saves, and seven postseason saves in nine chances. He was 19 for 19 before he got here in 2015. Drew has 1 save in 3 postseason opportunities.

        As for the excuses make for him, you don’t get the luxury of a manager avoiding using you against a tough hitter when you’re a closer. You better be able to perform under the greatest pressure that any pitcher has to face, and you better be able to get any hitter out, not just those who you match up well against. You can’t be a closer and expect a team and a fanbase to be patient while you develop those qualities.

    • NatsLady - Oct 8, 2015 at 10:33 AM

      And I’ll be perfectly happy to try Rivero closing. If Osuna (AGE 20!!) can close for the Blue Jays, then I don’t see why we have to go out and pay big bucks for an “established” closer. Get the right guys behind him.

      • rabbit433 - Oct 8, 2015 at 11:03 AM

        Hopefully, with Williams outta here, we will use Rivero.

      • trfwans - Oct 8, 2015 at 11:30 AM

        Whether Rivero closes or not, new bullpen FA or trade acquisitions need to happen. Let’s see what happens with that before we start assigning roles.

      • chiefwj - Oct 8, 2015 at 11:56 AM

        Even if you don’t subscribe to the Storen-is-a-headcase theory, one of the big problems with him as a closer is that he can’t get left-hand hitters out as readily as right-handed. This has been true even when he was pitching well. The career splits are significant (OPS of 587 vs RH and 654 v LH), and the difference would be even greater if you removed the numbers for his first two years when he was actually more effective against LH hitters. In 2015, Storen’s OPS against RH was 482 vs 706 against LH. This suggests he may be better suited for a set-up role where there might be more of an opportunity to keep him away from LH power hitters.

        By contrast, Papelbon’s lifetime splits are almost identical (580 vs. RH and 587 vs. LH). If I can figure this out, so could Rizzo, and I see why he might have wanted an upgrade. He’s always had a great splitter, which is effective against the opposite-handed hitter. Storen’s best pitches don’t play as well against LH.

        As an aside, this is the problem with Treinen–despite great stuff, he can’t get LH out, or at least not enough. He’s been effective coming in to get a grounder from a RH batter who won’t be pinch-hit for, but not so much if he has to face a mix of RH and LH.

        I recollect that one of our former posters argued that Thornton should have been brought in to turn Sandoval around last year. Storen’s numbers against LH suggest that might not have been a bad move.

    • adcwonk - Oct 8, 2015 at 1:38 PM

      natsguy: Storen is a professional. If Storen had pitched in the 8th like he did in the 9th, the move to get Papelbon would have strengthened the team and given the Nationals more wins than they otherwise would have gotten.. 8th or 9th, shouldn’t have mattered.

      Yeah. While I like Storen, and has been one of his big boosters here for years . . . I gotta say: if Paps’ presence got into his head, then what’s it like facing a good batter with bases loaded at the end of the game?

      You’re supposed to “forget it all” when you’re on the mound — even more so when you’re a reliever (how many times do we hear that relievers in particular “have to have a short memory”?).

      It makes me wonder . . .

  15. jd - Oct 8, 2015 at 10:19 AM

    All of the ‘turning points’ discussed are valid but let’s keep in mind that when the Mets came to town for a 3 game series in early September we were only 4 games back with still 6 games left to play with the Mets so it was all there for the taking. In that context clearly the real ‘stake in the heart’ happened in that series and if you want to be more specific game 2 and the blown 7-1 lead was the moment where it became apparent that 2015 was not our year.

    • veejh - Oct 8, 2015 at 10:45 AM

      Agree. Being swept by the Mets only 4 down was the daggar.

      • funnationals - Oct 8, 2015 at 11:35 AM

        it wasn’t just being swept, it was how we were swept

        I have Drew Storen’s ball four to Wright BTW that loaded the bases. I figured whenever I have a bad day at the office all I have to do is look at that ball and realize it could be worse

      • ArVAFan - Oct 8, 2015 at 1:28 PM

        funnationals: I like your perspective. I have a quite a number of game-used balls, but I’ve never thought of getting one like that. And, it was probably a lot cheaper, than, say, no-hitter balls, or any ball that went within 20 feet of one Bryce Harper.

      • funnationals - Oct 8, 2015 at 11:37 PM

        ArVAFan, are you the regular who collects balls from remarkable games?

        I have a small collection but each one has a reason. Like the Storen ball. And a ball-in-dirt Rochy game-used ball from game 5 of the NLDS… why? Because he got the gold and silver slugger that year, but in this particular at-bat didn’t once swing the bat! I have Harper’s groundout in the 9th when the Nats clinched in Turner Field, it moved Desi to third who soon scored on a wild pitch by Cone. Hope to meet you sometime, I could have been AxVAFan 🙂

    • trfwans - Oct 8, 2015 at 11:34 AM

      It was apparent long before then that 2015 was not our year. Blowing that 7-1 lead merely confirmed the fact. It was the last nail in the coffin.

  16. janebeard - Oct 8, 2015 at 11:06 AM

    What a great read Mark and Chase! Thanks.

    Our whole family kept saying, “Get mad! Get back into 2012 underdog mode!” after that July Mets loss and subsequent horrible homestead where they kept losing ground. But underdog mode requires that people pull as one, and the Pap move totally send the message that management wasn’t on the same team as the players. They kept saying one thing but did something diametrically opposed to what they said. When there’s no glue, you can’t pull as one team. Team cohesion is clearly missing, and it was impossible to achieve after that move.

    Look at who spurred the cohesion in past years: Michael Morse (gone). Ian Desmond (lame duck) Tyler Clippard (a Met for gosh sakes). Drew Storen (decapitated). Go Gonzalez (seems a lot less playful than before). Jason Werth (lost at the plate). Ryan Zimmerman (seemed quieter than in past years). They need GOOD guys, joyful players. The vibe got denser and desperate, and was lead by someone who kept pretending like there was no problem.
    Pap wasn’t the biggest problem. But making that move was the nail in the coffin.

  17. funnationals - Oct 8, 2015 at 11:09 AM

    What was the turning point for the 2015 Nationals?

    This has been said already, but will add that with 20/20 hindsight, will have to say when Matt Williams promised to do the Babe Ruth impression but only after the 2014 playoffs were over. Joe Maddon promised to turn Wrigley into a zoo and he delivered.

  18. alexva6 - Oct 8, 2015 at 11:38 AM

    since they only played at a pace to reach 90 wins in one month (May) I would argue that there was no turning point at all. they played less than good enough all year.

    ironically, last year May was the only month that they did not play up to a 90 win pace.

    • exposremains - Oct 8, 2015 at 11:59 AM

      I agree, that was part of the point I was trying to make earlier.

  19. wjskinner - Oct 8, 2015 at 1:31 PM

    The turning point plainly was in July at the deadline when all our genius GM could muster was getting a clubhouse cancer closer that no other ML team wanted. Did he get another bat to fill in while Zimm/Werrth/Rendon worked themselves back into form? NO. did he add another veteran bullpen arm that could be counted on in pressure situations no. Rizzo and the whole organization (inlcuding the ownership) arrogantly assumed that they could continue fielding a lineup of 1 ML hitter, a bunch of AAAA replacements and a few aging but of injured stars still in spring training mode and contend for a title. That arrogant attitude – that lack of urgency filtered down to the manager and the players.

  20. texnat1 - Oct 8, 2015 at 1:44 PM

    The season had already turned, but I think the series at Saint Louis about a month ago was this killer. Nats should have swept. Were ahead in all three games and knew they needed to win. But they blew the first two in shocking fashion.

    It wasn’t over at that point, but after that series you had a sense that this wasn’t going to be their year. They just didn’t have it.

  21. Misswonderly - Oct 8, 2015 at 2:07 PM

    Of course they knew they were in trouble after that home stand. I find it weird that you comment at length about the uncharacteristically testy answers you were getting from players, and then claim that the players didn’t seem to have a clue about what was going on. You think they were grumpy because they thought they were doing great? They’re playing these games, they know when something’s not working, and they know when they’re not playing to their potential. They seemed tight, tense, pressured and frustrated from that Reds series in June to the bitter end, if you ask me.

  22. ward5nedc - Oct 8, 2015 at 2:20 PM

    Opening day vs the Mets.

    • jfmii - Oct 8, 2015 at 2:23 PM

      Yes, against all my better judgement, that game got under my skin a lot

  23. zmunchkin - Oct 8, 2015 at 3:05 PM

    The CarGo grand slam. Leaving Storen in the face CarGo was indefensible.

  24. thewerthwhisperer - Oct 8, 2015 at 5:41 PM

    Interesting no one has mentioned Opening Day as a foreshadowing of the season. With so many head scratchers to count, Desi got it started by calling off Uggla, and the rest yet to come, is now history.

  25. philipd763 - Oct 8, 2015 at 7:22 PM

    The turning point was when Bryce Harper said “Where’s my ring” after learning of the Scherzer signing. Statements like that are always the kiss of death. The second kiss of death was when SI picked the Nats to win the WS!

  26. IsawTeddywin - Oct 8, 2015 at 9:35 PM

    The turning point was when Rendon injured himself in spring training.
    This put Escobar at 3rd, and with Span also out, it basically completely upset both the offense and defense as planned. The continual interruptions of Span’s and Werth’s up and down injury status also insured there was never a coherent lineup.

    • ArVAFan - Oct 8, 2015 at 10:09 PM

      Yep. The definition of a team is a group of people who either work together or play a game together. In pro baseball, it should be both. I’m sure that’s one issue that hurt them was that there were only a few players who played together consistently, and those that did got moved around a lot. But other teams have succeeded in spite of a similar set of injuries–so what was the difference? Bad luck? Bad timing? Bad management? Bad chemistry? All of the above?

  27. JamesFan - Oct 9, 2015 at 10:58 AM

    I do not think that there was a specific turning point or event that changed the team. I believe that there were moments in 2015 that showed those paying attention just how dysfunctional the Nats were and how doomed they were from the start. None of us wanted to believe it, but the turning point for 2015 was 2014.





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