The End of The Line

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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.

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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.
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The Late Night Nats are Worth Paying Attention To

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LaRoche being clobbered by teammates after hitting a game winning single. (C/O Patrick Smith, Getty)

LaRoche being clobbered by teammates after hitting a game winning single. (C/O Patrick Smith, Getty)

Do not take this as me telling you to not pay attention to the Wizards this week or this summer. However, do take this as a wake up call. Many people went into last year with the Nationals as their team. The team they would pay attention to, watch every night and read the articles about them every morning. But with every passing game lost by error, mistake, or inability to come back, fans slowly drifted towards looking at Robert Griffin the Third’s Sophomore year or watching their AL team. The ballpark was still full, but the Nats had made a promise and broke it, so the energy and the hope was gone.

Coming into this season, magazines and newspapers came in with the same expectations that so many called bloated, considering the fact they were the same as last year’s. But from day one, something had changed. This was a team that could come back.

After going down early on the first day of the season and losing Wilson Ramos, the Nationals came back in extra innings. Even after losing more key players, like Harper and Zimmerman, the Nats have been able to come back, showing an attitude that Matt Williams says is “In their D.N.A.”

Even after a rough start from the starters, they came back and kept the team in the game consistently. There is no official stat, the Nationals have come back 8 times out of 9 when down or tied in the seventh inning by less than two runs this year, which seems like a lot, especially compared to last year. “When you’re put in situation(s) and the game is on the line, you want to come through for your teammates” says Jayson Werth, who has been a catalyst for many rallies this year.

So I encourage you to pay attention, to not be shoved away by one bad season. Because as Werth said, the Nationals are “Taking opportunities when they’re given to us, and (continue to) win ballgames.”

Quotes from Washington Post, Adam Kilgore. 

LaRoche, Espinosa, Storen given second chances

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2013 was the year of Murphy’s Law. If something could go wrong for the Nats, it did. Bryce Harper’s face collided with the one part of Dodger Stadium that could hurt him, and somehow hurt his knee in the process. Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos both had leg problems, Ross Detwiler missed nearly all of the season with a back injury, Denard Span slumped until August, Ryan Zimmerman’s throws went in the wrong direction until June, and the middle of the bullpen was not nearly as effective as it had been in the past.

However, there were three players that truly stood out last year with their problems – Adam LaRoche, Danny Espinosa, and Drew Storen.

In 2012, Danny Espinosa seemed to have a firm grip on the Second Base job, batting .247 and hitting 17 home runs. But after an early injury and a bad start, something had to give with Anthony Rendon tearing up the Minor Leagues. He was sent down on June 4th, and Rendon came up for the second time, having a breakout season. Espinosa never recovered, and wasn’t even called up in September.

Drew Storen had also had a solid 2012, even though he missed the first part of it, posting an E.R.A. of 2.37, and pitched strongly until Game 5 of the NLDS, where he gave up the famous four runs against the Cardinals. He never bounced back to start the season, posting a combined 6.15 E.R.A. for the first four months of the season. Even though he did bounce back in the final two months, giving up 14 hits in 18.1 innings, questions still surround him.

After 100 R.B.I.’s and batting .271, life was looking good for Adam LaRoche after 2012. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.) But he never gained confidence or could keep weight on in 2013, and he also had a monster slump to start the year that never ended,

There had been much anticipation to see if Drew Storen or Danny Espinosa would start the year with a Curly W on their chests. But through all the major checkpoints in the offseason, they all remained on the Nats.

While Matt Williams has already commented on Danny Espinosa getting a chance to re-claim his job, saying that it’s an “open competition”, LaRoche and Storen will start in the same places they did last year.

Rizzo has kept faith in all of these guys, and now it’s up to them to do a good job. Hopefully, they’ll have a succesful season. But what do you think?