Although the Nats finally won in the 12th inning yesterday, the Mets also won earlier in the evening and clinched the National League East Division title. Time to stick a fork in this stinker of a season.
I’m not going into all the problems with the 2015 Nats (although I’ve touched on several recently). They are almost too many to contemplate.
If you want to read why Matt Williams should be fired, you could do worse than this one from Nationals Baseball at the end of the disastrous 3-game sweep by the Mets earlier in September.
If you want to read why the trade for Jonathan Papelbon was the worst trade of the season (something I supported at the time, but now see how wrong I was), read Joe Posnanski. That trade, plus the pre-season dealing of Tyler Clippard (which I did not support at the time), calls into doubt the wisdom of our general manager.
If you want to read why the team should go all-in with a lifer contract for Bryce Harper, read Tom Boswell.
I will say that I am ready for Ian Desmond to leave. After watching his wretched season all summed up last evening with a strikeout with the bases loaded and no outs in the 4th – as he swung for the fences – my thoughts turned to the fact that this is a talented player who needs a new direction. When he has the same number of errors as all the other players who have played infield and catcher for the Nationals this season combined, it is time to look elsewhere.
But let’s put all that behind us. Yesterday was still a day at the ballpark, which beats many other pursuits hands down. The game began on a positive note. My friend Dolores and I (we split my allotment of season tickets) decided to take in an afternoon of batting practice on a nice fall afternoon before a 4 p.m. start. I actually caught (corralled might be a better term) a BP home run ball off the bat of some anonymous Philadelphia player. Believe it or not, in 50+ years of attending MLB games, this was the first ball – BP or otherwise – I had ever caught at a stadium. But there was a little guy – about 9 or 10 years old – in the row in front of me who had brought his glove but hadn’t caught a ball all afternoon. Dolores said, “Why don’t you give it to the kid?” And I did. His eyes lit up, which made it all worthwhile.
A lady in her late 40s – glove in hand – was also sitting in that row and saw it all. A couple of minutes later, she snagged a BP home run. She said it was her second of the day. After the Phillies cleared the field and the kid left, we stayed to talk and enjoy the cool fall breeze. When she heard I gave away the first ball I’d caught, she said, “I caught two, why don’t you take one?” Then she asked if I was a season ticket holder, and when she heard I was she said, “Why don’t you take the one with the ten-year anniversary stamp on it.” And she gave me the ball in the picture above. Angels come in all varieties.
On to the game, where Stephen Strasburg showed the dominance he’s demonstrated since coming off the disabled list, firing eight innings of 3-hit, 1-run baseball while striking out 13. Yes, I know it is the last-place Phillies, but he’s been consistently tough over the stretch at the end of the year. Unfortunately, as has been the case all too often this year, there was no offensive support. Once again, Bryce Harper was the only Nat who showed up consistently at the plate, going 3-5, raising his league-leading batting average to .339, and driving in the winning run in the 12th. The Nats had plenty of opportunities to put this game away early – especially in the 4th when Harper, Werth, and Robinson loaded the bases with no outs. The key at-bat was Desmond’s. With no outs and the bags full, you have to put the ball in play. But this is the guy who has been striking out constantly, and he did so again in a big moment.
When the Nats were recently swept by the Orioles – to effectively kill whatever slim chance they had to make the playoffs – Boswell questioned their fight…and effectively their heart.
The Nats’ recent galling defeats, just at the moment the Mets finally showed vulnerability (a 3-6 homestand), brings up another touchy issue.
How much “flight” does a major league team need to have? How much is too little, like going through the motions, even being pushed around and swept in your own ballpark by supposed key rivals like the Mets and now the O’s?
Right now, the Orioles, even though their odds of making the playoffs are almost nil, seem to have the proper amount of pluck under Showalter.
The Nats? Well, if they’re trying to get Williams fired, they’re doing a fine job. They often looked like kid brothers getting slapped around by bigger boys against Baltimore. Fielding and fundamentals, base-running judgment and, at times, just running the bases at total full speed — all poor. Ian Desmond couldn’t get down a crucial eighth-inning sacrifice bunt. And he looked so bad doing it that you wondered: Why ask him to do that at all?
Nobody ever looks good being beaten, but the Nats frequently seem resigned, like they are living out some kind of blighted year before an offseason in which at least a quarter of the team will depart — as free agents or in trades.
As was noted last year after the crushing playoff loss to a team they should have beaten, only a few of these Nationals look as if they are ready for the tough situations that invariably come with September and October baseball.
Well, it will be an interesting off-season. All I can say is the proverbial, “Wait ’til next year.”
More to come…