What could go wrong? The answer seemed to be nothing, heading into the 2013 season. As Nats fans have established many times over, the answer was many, many things. One included the dramatic fall of Ross Detwiler.
At this point, the memories of the NLDS are simply scars, disappearing a little more each and every day. Bryce Harper’s cannonball home runs have finally fallen, the cold bats of everyone but him and Anthony Rendon are lying by the winter fire and the hearts of Nationals fans are already set on 2015.
And so the season for waiting has come upon us. The hurt is almost gone, and the Nationals and their fans need to look towards 2015. It’s a rough process, but it has to happen.
227. That’s how many home runs the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants combined for this year. They combined for 1,327 runs total. They made it to the playoffs on shutdown bullpens and bloop singles.
The Baltimore Orioles hit 211 home runs. The Los Angeles Angels scored 773 runs. They made it to the playoffs on flashy home runs and walk off hits, with pitching as an afterthought.
However, the Royals and Giants were the two teams to see World Series play, while Baltimore and L.A. sat at home watching. And while hardcore baseball fans enjoyed the World Series, the nation didn’t respond with much interest, as this year’s world series was the lowest rated for a seven game series in a very long time, partially due to the blowout factor, but partially due to the styles of play that each team used.
The pennant winners this year were the most boring winners you’re going to see in a while. Everything happened with small ball, bunts, bullpens and stolen bases. As a baseball fan, that’s a good thing. For someone who understands all the nuances of the game, it made it just as interesting, if not more interesting, than previous World Series’.
But for the rest of the world, the people that only tune in during October, it brought down interest. The casual fans want to see strikeouts from flamethrowers and then mammoth home runs. Which spikes a debate – what’s better for baseball?
The case for the bunt, steal and single approach is simple and more wholesome. It’s been the foundation of baseball since the nineteenth century. Traditionalists love it, and it gives small market teams big opportunities.
However, the home run approach has it’s moments. It obviously creates more excitement, and it gives fans who have a very basic knowledge of the game to experience the game’s most basic element: the long ball.
There’s no obvious solution or fix for this. Unfortunately, you can’t tell teams how to develop prospects or little leaguers to swing for the fences.
The decision remains in the hands of General Managers everywhere, and as the game evolves one way or the other, fans will too.
He’s not flashy. He certainly doesn’t command the highlight reel breaking balls of Kershaw or the blazing fastballs of Strasburg. He’s not married to a supermodel, and he certainly doesn’t have an underwear line. But Jordan Zimmermann is a better pitcher than any other on the Washington Nationals rotation, so it’s time for him to be given that role.
As Nationals fans exited through the centerfield gate after the eighteen inning defeat against the San Francisco Giants, they were all overcome with the same sinking feeling. They would not return in the calendar year. The Giants disposed of the Nationals in four games in the National League Division series on their way to a run at the pennant and now the World Series. The ballpark now stands empty, void of anyone excepting the occasional janitor or from every now and then, a security guard. Somewhere in an office, Mike Rizzo is sitting, wondering; what more can we do to make something happen in this month?
In the year 2008, things seemed a bit simpler. The Philadelphia Phillies owned the best record in the National League and went on to win the NLDS, the NLCS, and then the World Series, all convincingly. And then the tides began to turn in 2012. All of the sudden, the field of four became five. The Wild-Card team, instead of waiting patiently with the rest of the league, had to play a game to decide their fate against another contender. And while many cried out that it unfairly punishes the teams who normally got a free pass into the Divisional Series, something different happened this time around.
Down Half Street lies the Navy Yard Metro Station. Board a train 81 days from April to October and the train will be packed with fans dressed in red, white and blue, bearing the names of Strasburg and Harper. Ride it for long enough, and you’ll eventually reach Branch Avenue, the final stop on the line before turning around and starting all over. Only one team out of thirty is lucky enough to be the team that can happily leave the train before Branch Avenue, the stop known as the World Series. The Nationals were not that team this year.
The train that looked to be going the perfect speed, to for the first time, finish ahead of everyone else, couldn’t. On Wednesday, October 7th, the San Francisco Giants eliminated the Washington Nationals from postseason contention. The Nationals managed a meager 9 runs in four games, and lost the series in four games after being heavily favored to advance to the next round.
Maybe you should blame the loss on Tanner Roark giving up the home run in the eighteenth inning to Brandon Belt in Game Two. Maybe you should blame Gio Gonzalez for giving up two runs in four innings, or Aaron Barrett for throwing the wild pitch that created the winning run. Maybe you should blame Matt Williams for not taking Barrett out of the game soon enough. But excepting the two youngest and brightest stars on the team, the blame rests on the offense.
The Nationals offense all year long thrived on the ability of the tag-team combo of Denard Span and Anthony Rendon to get on base, and then for Adam Laroche, Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper or Wilson Ramos to drive them in. All of them hit higher than .258 in the regular season. In the Postseason, Adam LaRoche hit .056 and Desmond had the highest average in the top seven spots excepting Harper and Rendon at .167. Harper and Rendon combined to bat .331. However, even when Harper and Rendon got on base, nobody drove them home, as the Nationals lost one-run game after one-run game.
While the pitching wasn’t as superb as it had been in the months leading up, giving up 2.25 runs a game should be a recipe for success. However, the bats completely died in the five day break between Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter and Game one of the NLDS. While Harper and Rendon showed incredibly promising signs, the rest of the team continued to go quietly each and every time, letting hanging breaking balls fall in for a strike, swinging at balls in the dirt and popping up consistently. While Game 3 showed momentum changing, the Nationals simply couldn’t ride Bryce Harper alone to the next round. Errors they hadn’t made all year proved costly the one time it truly mattered. And instead of something escapable to run away from, the World Series station passed, and Branch Avenue became a reality with Ramos’ groundout to end the game.
And so the train turned around and went back. Half Street was just a blur in an underground tunnel. The signs proclaiming that the Nationals had reached the postseason had quietly disappeared. The government offices were no longer red, and back to their normal states. And even on a day where the temperature was warm and the sun was out, the chills of winter were blowing, not to stop for a long, long time. The train pulled into the airport, and the team left, all going their separate ways. And for the train itself? It will sit underground for the winter and avoid the cold. And one morning in April, it will pull out of the station, starting another journey.