The Panic Button

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This was the team that made D.C. dream. We cheered with them, cried with them, and sung “Take on Me” with them. 2012 was an incredible year for the Nationals.

But you can’t dwell on the past forever, as baseball proves every year. It looked like a sure thing in 2013, after trading for Span, a true leadoff hitter, and signing Soriano, just in case. But it didn’t work. The Nationals were an average team all of last year. They were unable to beat division rivals, made countless errors and constantly, average pitchers seemed to look good against them. The fans chalked it up to a bad atmosphere, and Davey Johnson not being intense enough. They thought that bringing in Matt Williams, who would make defense a priority, and clubhouse guys like McClouth and Frandsen in would push this team over the edge, and that everyone would pick up right where they left off at the end of last year.

And for the first series against the Mets, it looked like that would be the case. Sure, Ramos may be hurt, but Harper, LaRoche and Zimmerman were sure to pick them up. However, that wasn’t the case. The Nationals were barely able to take one from the supposedly hurt Braves. They were then unable to take series from the Cardinals, Padres, Angels and Phillies, and were swept by the Braves twice. As April became May, they were swept in Oakland and lost two of three against the Reds. And just this weekend, the Nats have already lost three of four against the Pirates, and are three games behind the Braves, and one behind the Marlins. Which is leading every Nats fan to ask one simple question: “Why?”

The answers are there. They’ve been incredibly inconsistent – one night, they look ready for the World Series – the next, they look like the entire team should be sent to Class AAA Syracuse. The batting with RISP has been abysmal – there are only four players batting above .250. When the team is behind, the majority of the team is batting .249 or less. The pitchers have also been unable to keep the game scoreless through the first inning: the rotation has a combined 4.73 ERA in the first inning, with a combined 43 runs given up.

This is not something you can blame on the manager. Matt Williams has done a great job – this is entirely the players, although a stern talking to may be in order. And while it’s true that some of the best hitters have spent most of their time on the DL this year for the Nationals, that was true as well in 2012. But then, the bench stepped up and was able to make things happen. Harper came up and dominated, Tracy and Lombardozzi were consistently sharp, and they were 29-20 at this point in the season, five games better than this year.

The Nats have been anything but dominant this year. Which leads to the question, is it time to say this is not the team that will give D.C. a World Series? From all evidence, it would seem that this cast of characters is average at best. But they know, the fans know, Mike Rizzo knows, and Matt Williams knows that the Nats can do something. Now, some things have to change. There needs to be a serious realization in that clubhouse that everybody has to step it up. Hopefully, when they get Zimmerman and Harper back, they can start to go on a tear. But if nothing happens this year, it may be time to press the panic button on this team.

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