Rounding August and coming into September, if someone had told Bryce Harper that the Nationals would be 58-59 he would call them crazy and comment what have these people been smoking. The signing of Max Scherzer seemed to have clinched a World Series appearance for them. Someone forgot to tell the Nationals as they have limped their way through the 2015 season. Their only hope is the Mets fall apart and the Nationals can catch them by losing less games. August is turning into September and the Nationals are 58-59. It is not an illusion.
Some of the problems haunting the Nationals:
Injuries to Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon have hurt the lineup. These players have been prone to injuries and Werth and Zimmerman are hitting that age where 15 to 30 days on the disabled list is to be expected. The injury that has hurt them the most is the one to Denard Span. The Nationals are far over .500 when Denard is in the lineup and they are a last place team when he is not in the lineup. Michael Taylor covers his ground defensively but his bat is still inconsistent. Yunel Escobar has been acceptable in the leadoff spot, but is better in the number two spot. With Denard Span they have one player that can fill both spots. The bad news is Denard may be out for the season.
Stephen Strasburg has also been on and off the disabled list. It is unclear how much his ineffectiveness this year can be attributed to injury. The bullpen has also been decimated with the season ending injury to Craig Stammen. No one in the bullpen has been able to replace him.
The Nationals traded Tyler Clippard to the Athletics for Yunel Escobar. They thought Blake Treinen or Aaron Barrett could handle the eighth inning duties with less cost. Both have been failures. The Nationals had to trade for Casey Janssen and Jonathan Papelbon to fill the seventh and eighth inning roles. Unfortunately, as he did when Rafael Soriano arrived to close a couple years ago, Drew Storen has melted in the set up role when the Nationals showed a lack of confidence in the closer role, seeing his ERA rise from 1.50 to 3.50. Jonathan Papelbon might as well go on a vacation. The Nationals have not been able to give him a lead so he can pick up a save. Ironic Tyler Clippard is now pitching for the Mets and filling the role he did for the Nationals, protecting leads for the Mets closer to finish. The Nationals are still looking for a pitcher to fill that role.
Costly Fielding Mistakes
The Nationals booted their way to losses at the beginning of the season. Those losses will come up big as the season winds down. Ian Desmond made the majority of errors, losing three of four games on his own with critical boots or dropped catches. As the season has progressed the errors are not as prevalent, but poor fundamental plays still persist. The errors they make seem to be in critical parts of the game when it means the most. As Cardinal and Giant players have commented during the playoffs, the Nationals have players whose character has to be questioned when playing the big games. The Nationals have yet to prove those comments are not true. The same was said of Lebron James for a number of years but he was able to overcome those comments. Fans are still waiting for the Nationals to do the same.
They also have their best fielders playing out of position. Anthony Rendon is a much better fielder than Yunel Escobar, but Yunel is uncomfortable on the right side of the diamond, so Anthony plays second and Yunel plays third. The injury to Jayson Werth had two slow footed firstbasemen trying to play left field. Tyler Moore and Clint Robinson did not cover a lot of ground when put in the grass showing the range of a redwood.
Overrated Starting Pitching
With the signing of Max Scherzer this was supposed to be the best starting staff ever in the history of baseball when you take into account the starting five, and then consider the sixth starter, Tanner Roark was one of the best starters on the team last year relegated to the bullpen. As the season has progressed they have shown their starting pitching is not even the best in the NL East. At this point, most people would take the Mets rotation over the Nationals.
Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister saw drops in their velocity which also saw rises in their ERA. Fister was eventually moved to the bullpen because of this. When Zimmermann gets tagged they seem to come in bunches. Stephen Strasburg has not been himself, injuries forcing his ERA to rise above 5.00. Gio Gonzalez is a five inning pitcher because he has an inability to throw strikes. When fans go to a game they have to wonder which Gio will show up, the one who can’t go five or the one who can at least finish six. Unfortunately, the former seems to show up the most. Even the ace of the staff Max Scherzer has not been pitching like an ace. When the Nationals need to stop a losing streak he pitches the worst game of his career. That has happened at least twice. He has gotten to that point where hopefully the worst game of his career has gotten more difficult to reach.
Poor Situational Hitting
The Nationals do a poor job of getting productive outs, moving runners from second to third or scoring runners from third. They have too much swings and misses in their bats. Ian Desmond is a big proponent of grip it and rip it, but his hitting has regressed for five straight years. A change in his hitting approach would seem to be logical especially in his free agent year. He will find it hard for a team matching the $100 million the Nationals offered him at the beginning of the season.
Everyone wondered what kind of numbers Wilson Ramos could put up if he stayed healthy all year. He has answered those questions. A batting average of less than .250 with less than 15 homeruns. Jose Lobaton has gotten more starts because he is a better pitch framer. If Wilson is not hitting Lobaton is the better catcher (though Wilson still has the better arm).
Ian Desmond used to be one of the better clutch hitters on the team a couple years ago. That clutch has disappeared with his propensity to swing and miss at pitches in the dirt. Pitchers know this so they continue to feed him the poor pitches. He takes the fastball down the middle, gets behind in the count and swings and misses at a pitch out of the strike zone.
If the Mets play their way out of the playoffs to allow the Nationals to sneak in, myworld does not see them going far in the playoffs. When the Nationals were having trouble scoring runs the excuse was they were facing some pretty good pitchers from the Dodgers and Pirates. Myworld news flash - if they make the playoffs they will be facing those same pitchers. Add in the Giants and Cardinals, two other pitching staffs they struggle against. If they can’t hit them during the regular season they are not going to hit them during the playoffs. They have already proven that in 2012 and 2014 when the Cardinals and Giants bounced them out of the playoffs.