June 24, 2019

Washington Nationals Game 162 Review: Turn out the lights, the party is over

HARPER GOES 1 FOR 4, FINISHES SECOND TO GORDON FOR BATTLING TITLE

Curtis Granderson hit an eighth inning solo home run off reliever Blake Treinen and the Washington Nationals season — which started with so much promise but ended in disappointment and dysfunction — came to a close with a 1-0 loss to the playoff-bound New York Mets at Citifield in Queens.

Maybe in just the faintest bit of irony, Tyler Clippard (5-4) earned the win for the Mets, pitching a perfect eighth inning and striking out two.

The Nats (83-79) managed just two hits on the day — Clint Robinson’s single off Jonathan Niese, and Bryce Harper’s ninth-inning two-out opposite field double — which extended the season one more batter, allowing Jayson Werth to fly out weakly to center to end the season.

Treinen, called upon once again to face a left-handed batter with poor results, took the loss and fell to 2-5. Tanner Roark, who was shuffled in and out of bullpen roles then forced back into the rotation due to injury and attrition, gave up three hits and a walk over six shutout innings, striking out six.

Harper went 1 for 4 on the day, lowering his batting average to .330. With Miami’s Dee Gordon going 3 for 4, the Marlins second baseman finished at .333, narrowly beating Harper out of the batting title.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

The Nats have a lot of decisions to make, some in the very near future. GM Mike Rizzo is faced with the daunting task of ruling over manager Matt Williams’ fate — and those of his coaches — as well as reconstructing the bullpen, finding a starter (or two), and accumulating productive bats for when Werth and Ryan Zimmerman inevitably end back up on the disabled list again next season.

We’ll have plenty of time to dissect those and many more issues that face this team, but the epitaph on this season should read that the projected opening day lineup played together this season for just two games. And it’s not like it just missed on many more. Sometimes, injuries can be a fluky thing. But the Nats did a spectacularly poor job managing them this season.

Of the top five hitters in the Nats ideal lineup, four —  Denard Span, Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman — all missed considerable time due to injury. When they returned, en masse at the start of August, they were all inserted immediately with little rehab time to get their timing back. It was disastrous. Then, Span got hurt again. Then, Zimmerman was re-injured just as he started to tear it up.

So much futility where once there was so much promise.

A NEW SEASON WITH A NEW TEAM

The window has closed with this group of players, There will be an insane amount of turnover before next season for a team that was the consensus favorite for World Series champs this past year. Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Span and Doug Fister will all play elsewhere. Matt Thornton, Casey Janssen and others perhaps as well. It’s possible two-fifths of the opening day roster from this season will be employed elsewhere next season.

But the Nats have a solid foundation from which to build. Bryce Harper will be the reigning N.L. MVP. Max Scherzer threw two no-hitters, a one-hitter, and generally earned every penny they forked over to him. Stephen Strasburg was one of the two or three most effective pitchers in the game after he returned from his second stint on the D.L.

Rendon, healthy, remains one of the game’s best young hitters. Michael Taylor showed plenty of promise offensively and defensively to expect him to man center field at Nats Park for the foreseeable future. Trea Turner was an offensive force on on-base machine in the minors and should be able to stick at short in the bigs. And the Nats have three pitching prospects in Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Erick Fedde that any other team in the league would covet.

Yes, there’s a lot of work to be done before Opening Day 2016, but there’s a lot of goodness to start from.

Mourn the disappointing 2015 campaign and the end of another season. Baseball breaks your heart — it’s designed to. But after a few months of cold, spring will come again.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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