No Game Today
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Richard III by William Shakespeare
This about sums up the feelings of all true Washington Nationals fans. The team that we all thought would be the next World Champions were ignominiously dispatched in four games by the wild card San Francisco Giants who now move on to play the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League pennant. All of our game-watching plans for the next several weeks crashed and burning in San Francisco.
Our team returned to Washington to scatter to their winter homes to contemplate their failure to launch. When a team that was so superior during the regular season, winning 96 games and leading the National League in victories, is defeated so thoroughly questions will be asked by the owners, the general manager, the manager, the coaches and most of all, by the players.
The first question must be “What just happened here?”. To understand their defeat the Nationals must answer that question. When the team with the best record in the National League two of the last three years is bounced from the playoffs in the first round, do they stay the course or make some changes.
First of all, it wasn’t the pitching that did them in. Their pitching was mostly spectacular. Jordan Zimmermann had retired 20 straight when Matt Williams took him out of the game with two outs in the top of the ninth in Game 2. Drew Storen gave up the tying run in a game that the Giants eventually won in 18 innings.
The Nationals’ downfall was their hitting. When you can’t muster more than four runs and that only in game, something was definitely wrong. The regular season big hitters of their batting order hit bupkiss in the division series. Ian Desmond hit .167. Wilson Ramos hit .118. Denard Span was at .105. Jason Werth was at .059 and Adam LaRoche was at an equally low .056.
So Mile Rizzo and Mark Lerner have to wonder why Matt Williams didn’t sit the last two for at least one game especially when he had Ryan Zimmerman sitting on the bench. Zimmerman only had four at-bats. He could have played in left and moved Harper to center. Besides, Span looked like he was sleep walking in center.
After Game 1 Williams should have responded to his club’s hitting slump but he didn’t. After the All-Star break he was masterful in his handling of his pitching staff but in this playoff he made a complete hash of his relief pitchers.
So where do the Nationals go from here? They need to decide who will be on their team next spring. They can’t keep so many obviously good players in Triple AAA much longer. Adam LaRoche’s contract is up and Ryan Zimmerman needs a spot where he can play everyday. Stephen Souza Jr. is a talent who they need to find a spot for at the major league level. Maybe they should trade Denard Span, move Harper to center and Souza to left?
They need to sign their-arguably best pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann, to a long-term contract. Here’s a shocker. Trade Ian Desmond. Trade Danny Espinosa. Both are great fielders but both have sacrificed average for power. Don’t they have replacements at Triple AAA?
Mike Rizzo will have a long winter to remold his club to return to the championship level.