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.
Don’t expect the playoffs to be easy. That’s not what they are. The playoffs are the final test for the best of the best. The playoffs are impossible, improbable and many other words that begin with “I”.
One thing that the Major League Baseball advertising department would like you to believe would be that you can’t predict baseball. And while that’s been a slogan for many a campaign, it’s a mainly false statement. Baseball, for the most part, is a very predictable game. The best hitters only make something happen one third of the time. And there are only so many possible outcomes for every situation. Groundout, flyout, strikeout or hit. But the times where you see something amazing, crazy or just odd, are the times where the phrase comes to your mind. Maybe it’s an unassisted triple play. Maybe it’s when the pitcher hits a home run, or when catcher legs out a bases-clearing triple. However, the one thing you can never consistently predict is how successful a player will be next year, next month, week or even game. So when Stephen Strasburg was controversially shut down as an effect of his previous Tommy John Surgery in 2012, right before the Nationals were poised to make a deep run into October, and right after he had a career year, the baseball world was unhappy. People questioned if he’d ever have a year this good again. People wondered if it was the right decision for him mentally and physically. Everybody from government officials to columnists to football players weighed in. The verdict typically seemed to be to let him pitch. Mike Rizzo stuck to his plan. Two years later, on the brink of another postseason, how does that decision look now?
It’s a good problem to have. Ryan Zimmerman is back, and his return creates even more depth in one of baseball’s elite lineups. This year, he’s batted at a .287 clip, which would be a significant addition to the lineup. But here’s the question – where do you put the face of your franchise? While some argue Zimmerman belongs in left on days that lefties pitch, that moves Harper. First base is out of the question as LaRoche is one of the best defensive players in the league. Third base continues to make Nats fans cringe every time a ball is hit near the bag; it would also move Rendon to second and the web-gem producing Cabrera out of the lineup.
At the beginning of the season, the folks at Out of The Park Baseball made all baseball blogger association members an offer; play our game and review it for your blog.
Out of The Park Baseball is a game basically allowing you to become the general manager of your team. You pick a league, team, and then start the ultimate quest; building a team that can win the World Series. However, if you fail, you’re fired from the team you pick. Since I didn’t want to mess with the Nationals, I picked the cellar-dweller White Sox.
Your inbox consists of everything from memos from Bud Selig, messages from the owner, trade offers and free agency reminders. Once you set your lineups and pitching staff, you can skip the timeline to opening day.
This aspect of the game is super fun, especially for wannabe-GM’s like me. The only problem I could really find was that at times, the controls were a bit confusing.
The game ended with a 10-4 rout by the White Sox, which ended our three game losing streak.
OOTP Baseball is tons of fun, and I would recommend it to any serious baseball fan. And now for something I never really I thought I would say… Go White Sox!!
Maybe it’s in the air. Maybe it’s the new manager. Maybe it’s that the Redskins are poised to have one of their worst seasons of all time. Maybe it’s that D.C. has finally gotten used to having a baseball team. Maybe it’s none of the above, and it’s just inexplicable. But D.C., slowly but surely is turning into a baseball town.