A scenario that appeared almost impossible six months ago became a grim reality for the Washington Nationals and their fan base this past weekend.
With a roster full of established, all-star caliber players as well as a promising core of young talent, Washington was a clear favorite to repeat as NL East champions heading into the season.
After consecutive 95-plus win seasons with postseason appearances, the Nationals could not overcome several key injuries and underperformance on both sides of their game and found themselves eliminated from playoff contention with a week remaining in the 2018 season.
Perhaps the biggest reason why it was easy to anticipate a good season for the Nats was the fact that this was Bryce Harper’s last year under team control, and many observers’ perception is that Washington’s window to win a World Series with the current roster is closing.
Harper will become a free agent and be the biggest name available in the market this offseason.
Offensively, while the whole team went through dry spells, the biggest piece missing from the Nats lineup was Ryan Zimmerman. The right-handed hitting first baseman has only played 82 games this season after appearing on the Nats lineup for 144 games last year. The difference in his offensive contribution between 2017 (.303 BA, 33 HR, 108 RBI) and 2018 (.267 BA, 13 HR, 49 RBI) was significant.
Washington’s pitching staff has also seen better days. Aside from Max Scherzer, who is posting yet another Cy Young-worthy season, the Nationals starters are pitching under their expected performance.
For instance, Stephen Strasburg (9-7, 3.83) has missed considerable time in the disabled list and has pitched for an ERA 1.31 runs higher than last season’s numbers. Tanner Roark (9-15, 4.34) has virtually equaled his performance from last season except that has suffered from very little run support from the Nats’ bats.
Washington’s bullpen was decimated by injuries throughout the season, with all of their marquee relievers spending stints in the disabled list.
The “Law Firm” bullpen of Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler and Sean Doolittle – which was expected to be the Nats’ winning formula – all spent time on the disabled list, stressing an already shaky starting rotation throughout most of the season. Shawn Kelley, Joaquin Benoit, Erick Fedde and Kelvin Herrera – a late-season add to stop the bleeding – all went down with injuries.
Even with everything that went wrong in 2018, the Nats could have made a run for the division if it wasn’t for Atlanta and Philadelphia’s surprising reemergence into the division fold. The Braves won the NL East this past weekend after they took the first three games of a four-game series against the Phillies.
After a certainly disappointing season, the time is now for the Nats to face the future and start fixing what is broken. But the scariest thought of all, and that moment seems to be coming quickly, is a world without Bryce Harper in their outfield.
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