Nats eliminated from the post-season

Updated: September 24, 2013

One season after winning their first division championship and first playoff appearance since the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington in 2005, the Nats were eliminated from post-season play yesterday.

Months ago, as cherry blossoms sprang out in the nation’s capital and the long winter released its gloomy clutches, DC baseball fans were exhilarated at the start of the new baseball season.  Why wouldn’t they?  After all, the Nationals were built for a long run with a few veterans mixed in with an otherwise young lineup.  That was the consensus feeling around baseball.  The expectations were set early by the media, in which many predicted the young Nats would repeat as National League East Champs and to represent the National League in the World Series.  Bryce Harper was one year older, Stephen Strasburg was off an innings limitations, and the Nats upgraded their rotation by adding starter Dan Haren.  On paper, this team was even better than 2012.

That isn’t the way it went down though.

We wrote early in spring training our concerns over the lofty expectations of not just the baseball analysts, baseball guides, preview shows, and yes, even us fans.  We warned that too high of expectations can have a crushing effect on a young team.  Was it the expectations that caused the disappointment.  Not likely.

The problem with the 2013 Washington Nationals was simple — production.  The Nationals headed into the season with what most expected to be an offensive powerhouse.  The reality is, for most of the season, until recent, the Nationals offense was woeful.  Through the beginning of August, the Nationals were second to last in total hits, 3rd to last in runs scored, and 3rd to last on on base percentage.  The Nationals were also 23rd in home runs and were 7th worst in strikeouts.  Folks, that is a recipe for offensive disaster.  And that is precisely what happened in DC, an offensive disaster.

Early injuries also hurt the Nationals.  C Wilson Ramos started the season off slowly because of rehabilitation of off-season knee surgery.  After returning, he then hurt his hamstring, which sidelined him for a month.  Kurt Suzuki was forced into the lineup and his production was no where near what it was late last season.  In the Nationals 2012 season, Suzuki batted over .260 after being acquired form Oakland to bolster the catching position because of an injury to Ramos.  This season, Suzuki batted just .219.  In 2012, Suzuki smacked 5 home runs with 25 RBI in 45 games, compared to 5 home runs and 32 RBI in 79 games.

Washington got their true center fielder via trade with Minnesota in the off-season, acquiring OF Denard Span.  He filled one of the only legitimate hols in the Nationals lineup.  Span was woeful in the first half of the season, particularly against left-handers.  Span has a career .350 on base percentage, but the first half of the season into August, he posted a .315 on base percentage.  His struggles against lefties caused manager Davey Johnson to move him around the lineup.  Through early August, Span batted just .194 against lefties, a startling difference form his career .287 batting average against lefties.

How about Adam LaRoche?  LaRoche earned an off-season two year deal from the Nationals after batting .271 with 33 home runs and 100 RBI in 2012.  LaRoche came no where close to those numbers this season.  Did anyone really expect him to?  I didn’t.  To date,  LaRoche is batting just .237 with 20 homers and 62RBI.   6 of the 20 homes  and 16 of the 62 RBI have come in August and September.  That is a stark difference in production from your clean up hitter.

Perhaps the most disappointing was the lack of production from 2B Danny Espinosa.  Espinosa came into the season with a lock on second base.  Why wouldn’t he.  He smacked 21 homers in 2011 and 17 in 2012.  He knocked in 66 runs in 2011 and 56 in 2012.   Those are solid numbers for second base.  However, Espinosa entered the season with rotator cuff issues that were not surgically repaired.,  Instead he chose rehabilitation.  His production plummeted to  dismal .158 batting average with 3 home runs and 12 RBI through 44 games.  That lack of production got Espinosa banned to the minor leagues.   Additionally, in terms of injury, the Nationals were without OF Jayson Werth for the entire monthly of May.  Bryce Harper struggled to stay healthy.

Pitching wise, the Nats starters, outside Jordan Zimmermann, were a little off from last year, but the fact is, the starting pitching was the strength of the team.  Dan Haren struggled mightely early in the season, posting an ERA above 5.80.  Clearly he had some issues with his shoulder early on.  After returning from the DL in late June, Haren began pitching the way the Nats expected when they signed him.  In 2012, Ross Detwiler emerged as one of the strongest fifth man starters in all of baseball, posting a 10-8 with a 3.44 ERA.   In 13 starts this season, Detwiler was 2-7 with a 4.04 ERA.  He then went on the DL for a herniated disk in his back and hasn’t pitched since July 3rd.   After a masterful 21-8 season with an ERA of 2.89 in 2012, Gio Gonzalez posted just 11 wins in 2013 with an ERA of 3.39.

In the bullpen, the Nats struggled in middle relief as Drew Storen posted an ERA above 4.70 and was even sent tot he minors for a period of time to straighten out his mental game.   Washington struggled also season without effective left handed relieving form the pen.  WE knew that from the start of the season.  The Zack Duke attempt was an utter flop, as he posted a 8.71 ERA in 12 games before being released.  Ryan Mattheus was an integral part of the 2012 bullpen success, posting a 5-3 record with a 2.85 ERA.  This season, Mattheus injured his own hand by slamming his hand into a locker.  His return has been nothing special.   In 36 games, Mattheus has posted a whopping 5.97 ERA.

Since August 9th, the Nationals have posted a 30-13 record and have produced just as expected early in the season.  The Nats of August and September look like the Nats that received the lofty expectations.  The problem became, when the Nationals decided to play to expectations, they were already 15.5 games behind Atlanta and9 games behind the final wild card spot.  Essentially, they were way to deep in a hole with not enough time to crawl out.

There is no doubt that Washington Nationals fans have suffered through a disappointing and frustrating season because of the lofty pre-season expectations.  At least Nats fans had the hope and thrill of an August and September wild card push, no matter how remote the possibility.  That hope and thrill ended last night with their formal elimination.  The Nats will finish out their 2013 season with much regret and plenty of questions awaiting the off-season.  None will be more important than who will lead the 2014 Washington Nationals in the dugout.  With Davey Johnson set to retire, this decision will have a major impact on the future.  As we watch the final few games of a disappointing season, we here at DCPSR promise to keep you updated on the Washington Nationals off-season.