For the 2015 Washington Nationals, history is repeating itself
College Contributor Network
Entering the 2013 MLB season, manager Davey Johnson oozed confidence as the Nats were coming off their first playoff appearance since baseball returned to Washington in 2005. With a good mix of young stars like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, plus wily veterans Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond, Johnson said that the season was a "World Series or Bust" for them. Long story short, they failed to even make the playoffs.
With the way they've been playing all season, the 2015 Washington Nationals are in danger of going down the same path. This past offseason, the Nationals inked ace Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million deal. Bryce Harper jokingly asked, "Where's my ring?" when he found out about the Scherzer signing, implying that the Nationals were now a lock to win the World Series. While many took offense at Harper's light-hearted comment, the club was clearly confident.
Their starting rotation featured Scherzer, Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister, arguably the best rotation in the league. Scherzer started the season off strong, posting great numbers and throwing a no-hitter that was a hit-batter-in-the-ninth-inning away from being a perfect game. As the summer has progressed, Scherzer has returned to earth. His earned run average (ERA) has slowly climbed to 2.44. That's pretty respectable, but it's a far cry from the 1.76 he boasted less than two months ago. Scherzer leads the league in innings pitched (162) and has been the ultimate workhorse, proving his worth through the first year of his long-term deal. Strasburg has looked good when he has not been hurting. He's had to battle injuries his whole career and hasn't been able to stay healthy and help the Nats every five days.
Zimmermann, who has been the club's most consistent starter the past five years, gives his team a chance to win every time he's on the mound. As for Gonzalez, he's been anything but consistent, even though his numbers look good on paper (9-4, 3.50 ERA). The club's fifth starter was Doug Fister, who had an impressive first season with the Nats in 2014 (16-6, 2.41 ERA). 2015 has been a different story. Fister has performed poorly, and with the emergence of rookie pitcher Joe Ross, Fister has been moved to the bullpen.
Speaking of the bullpen, this wouldn't be a DC sports team without a bit of controversy. This time, it was over the recent trade for closer Jonathan Papelbon. The bullpen needed help badly, but closer Drew Storen was one of the bright spots in an otherwise dismal season. However, the 28-year-old has been shaky in his post-season career, which may be why Rizzo decided to pull the trigger on the Papelbon deal. In his three most recent outings as the setup man, Storen has given up 8 runs and taken two losses! In the offseason, the Nats traded away setup man (and former roommate of Storen) Tyler Clippard and haven't been able to find a suitable replacement since. Papelbon has looked good when he has been called upon, but considering the Nats haven't been winning too many games lately, he hasn't had much work to do.
As for the Nats' bats, they have been quiet all season long, partly due to injuries to key players, including infielders Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman, and outfielders Jayson Werth and Denard Span. Harper and infielder Yunel Escobar, a player the Nats signed in the offseason, have hit well all season, but many players have regressed offensively since last year, especially shortstop Ian Desmond. Desmond, the only Nats player to be part of the Expos' organization, is in the final year of his contract and likely to change teams this offseason. Many believe the pressure of this contract year has gotten to him, as his numbers all across the board are down from his career averages. To makes matters worse, Desmond's defense has also looked shaky. The fact that he's won the silver slugger award as the best offensive player at his position the past three years shows he still has something left in the tank, and he'll be in for a big payday this offseason despite hitting just .222 and slugging .378 this season.
Right now, the Nats sit in second place behind the New York Mets. Although they don't have time on their side, at least most of the players who have been injured have come back recently. Clearly, this is no time for complacency as every game matters from here on out. Never mind winning the World Series. Just try to make the playoffs. This team is struggling like the 2013 Nationals, and the only difference is that this team isn't getting any younger, and their window for winning it all is getting smaller and smaller.
Adam Curtisis a rising sophomore at American University. Growing up, he played soccer and tennis and is a die-hard D.C. sports fan. Follow him on Twitter: @actennis96