Facing a crucial series against the rival Atlanta Braves, the Washington Nationals appeared to have one final shot at getting back into the playoff hunt. But after being swept by the Braves for the second time this year, the Nationals appear to be officially out of that race, a real disappointment for the organization Sports Illustrated predicted to win the World Series.
For what seems like the fourth time this season, the Nationals have hit rock bottom. Every time we assume this however, rock bottom becomes an even deeper, darker place. Leaving the average fan to wonder, “how much worse can the season get?”
At this rate, much worse. Recently, hitting coach Rick Eckstein was fired but the switch to Rick Schu has not made any impact on the offense which continues not to hit. As a result, the ever growing concern that more drastic changes need to be made is inevitable.
Davey Johnson took over as Nationals manager in 2011 after Jim Riggleman’s sudden resignation. Though the team was not a playoff contender, the players in the clubhouse rallied around each other and fought hard game after game for the rest of the season. This attitude carried over into 2012 when the Nationals won a MLB best 98 games. 2012’s team displayed a never say die attitude night after night. No matter the score, situation, or opponent, everyone knew the Washington Nationals were not going to quit until their opponent got 27 outs.
The 2013 season however, has been a totally different story. At times it has been hard to remember that most of these players are the same ones who were crowned division champs just half a calendar year earlier. Fair or unfair, the manager becomes the one who takes the blame when it comes to a season like this, and quite frankly Davey Johnson deserves a solid portion of it.
Throughout the season Davey Johnson has seemed to lack enthusiasm for the game and appears one step behind the other team’s manager. To notice these attributes, one needed to see no further than the recent series against the Atlanta Braves. In game one of the series, Johnson left Scott Hairston in to face a right-handed pitcher (Hairston hits off of predominantly left-handed pitchers) in a crucial situation. Hairston popped up to the catcher on a 2-0 count killing the Nationals chances of knotting the game up.
In game two of the series, Bryce Harper was hit with a pitch which appeared to be intentional. The benches cleared and the Nationals television commentators expected retaliation. Though benches had been warned, color commentator F.P. Santangelo was of the mindset that “you lose one game to win five”, meaning no matter the outcome of the game, it was important to show that all 25 guys on the roster have each others backs. Others believed the Nationals should wait until the next night to retaliate, but once again, nothing.
To be clear, it is not the managers job to initiate a hit by pitch. It is the players jobs to take it upon themselves. The reason no retaliation is so concerning is because the Nationals lack enthusiasm, heart, and the desire to fight every game to the end no matter when or lose. Davey Johnson is a proven manager who has succeeded in the past and as recently as last year. But this year, something seems to be lacking. Leaving Mike Rizzo with a difficult choice, whether to ride out the end of the season and see what happens, or look in another direction immediately.