Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Hard to Put Into Words

There are people more eloquent than I out there who have and will do a better job of talking about the Nationals’ season and more specifically last night’s debacle. Mostly, I just feel like this.

You can debate the specifics of last night’s game all you want. For once, Matt Williams isn’t really to blame. You can argue over the correctness of a few of his specific decisions: pulling Zimmermann in the fifth (right move), calling on Treinen to pitch the 7th inning up by 6 runs (understandable), calling on Rendon to bunt against a guy throwing 98 with movement (meh), calling on Rendon to bunt against a guy throwing 98 with movement in a 3-1 count when the only strike he threw was a pitch Rendon bunted foul to keep from getting hit in the face (bad).

But in the end it simply boils down to a bullpen that failed to hold on to a 6 run lead for even one inning. With the bases loaded, Felipe Rivero (a left hander) walked Curtis Granderson who is hitting a mere .162 against left handed pitchers. Drew Storen served up a meatball to the free swinging Yoenis Cespedes and followed that up with three straight walks, allowing the tying run to score without a bat needing to be swung. Jonathan Papelbon, finally being used in the 8th inning in an important game, served up a meatball to Kirk Nieuwenhuis, someone who has spent only 57 games in the majors this year. Take away just one of those events, and the Nationals walk away with a win.

That’s the story of the Nationals season, though. They have failed to deliver complete games in games that really matter. That bullpen? They actually sport a middle of the pack ERA of 3.65 on the year, better than several potential playoff teams like the Dodgers, Rangers and Twins. Yet when asked to hold a multi run lead for a couple innings against quality competition, they falter. The offense has scored the 7th most runs in the majors this year, yet the bats have disappeared for long stretches of time. The starters have put up a top 10 ERA this year, but the big name guys expected to take the league by storm have struggled down the stretch, none worse than Max Scherzer whose command seems to have left him in the second half of the year.

When the Nationals were bad, it was actually fun and entertaining to watch. Heading into the ballpark, fans didn’t expect to win, so seeing a curly W was a pleasant surprise. It was fun to see obviously flawed players like Nook Logan and Mike Bascik and Delmon Young play hard and adopt them as our own. Rob Dibble would provide some comedic relief. RFK was a terrible place to watch a baseball game, yet at the same time, an awesome place to watch a baseball game.

Now, the Nationals have a shiny new ball park, a GM who knows what he’s doing, and players oozing with talent and potential. That’s what makes these games so hard to watch. Dreams of a 100 win season have long since faded, but the playoffs have always been in the picture, taunting from just out of reach. And the team has given itself a shot at closing the gap in the NL East and overtaking the Mets. They just can’t stay out of their own way. It’s one thing to lose to a good team that beats you at your best. It’s another to shoot yourself in the foot one night, and come back and lose in the exact same way the next night. It’s enough to really make people consider finding something else to do with their free time.


But I will keep watching, even if the team gets eliminated. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for disappointment. Maybe it’s because “anything can happen in baseball” and that’s enough to keep me going. But mostly because it’s still my team. I watched from the upper deck at RFK when they were the worst team in baseball and I will watch from afar now as this season goes down the drain. Because maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t.

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