MLB Coverage: Why Washington Has Been A Bust

It was a season that held such promise for the Washington Nationals. After the 2012 run to the NL East title, the Nats were primed to take the next step. They had Stephen Strasburg ready for the whole year, they had playoff experience and 2013 was proclaimed “World Series or bust”, by no less than veteran manager Davey Johnson—a man with a little experience in winning World Series’ from his days running the 1986 New York Mets. Where did it all go so wrong?

Johnson himself acknowledged as much this week. He said that while he doesn’t regret saying “World Series or bust”, he admitted “it’s looking bust.” Such as life when you’re eleven games out of first place in the NL East and seven and a half games back of the wild-card.

I was one of the many who picked Washington to win the division when the season began, and one of a smaller, more stubborn (more stupid?) number that did the same in the MLB coverage here at the All-Star break. Now there’s no getting around that this has gotten away from the Nats and it’s time for an all-to-early sift through the wreckage to find out who’s to blame.

We can start with the offense, which is not surprising. Scoring runs is generally acknowledged as the Washington weakness, but 14th in the 15-team National League is a little too weak. Adam LaRoche has had a bad season, with a stat line of .313 on-base percentage/.405 slugging percentage, and his worst play has come over the last month. Denard Span has been terrible, there’s been no production out of the catching position, and Bryce Harper’s spent time on the disabled list.

Jayson Werth has finally looked like the player the Nats thought they had after the 2010 season, when Werth got a $126 million contract. He’s at .374/.500, and Ian Desmond is slugging .476, giving the team nice pop at shortstop. But the positives have been few and far between for the Washington lineup.

That might have been survived, but the pitching has been mediocre by any standard—8th in the league in ERA—and by the standards of what was reasonably expected, it’s a bigger disappointment than the bats. For most of the year the bullpen was the biggest culprit, but now the starters are collapsing.

Just consider the top three starters, of Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman. Over Strasburg’s last six starts, his ERA is 4.62. Gonzalez is at 5.34 over his last five outings. Zimmerman’s most recent four trips to the mound have resulted in a 7.52 ERA.

No one is going to win when their top three pitches like that, and certainly not a team dependent on pitching. This comes on top of a bad year from Dan Haren, possibly the sign that his career is on an irreversible downward spiral. Rafael Soriano has been a mild disappointment in the bullpen, a fairly pedestrian 26/30 on closing saving chances and a 3.05 ERA that’s higher than you expect from a big-money ace closer.

Not a lot has gone right for Washington in 2013, and the fact the decisive slide out of the NL East race came with Harper in the lineup eliminates the injury excuse. It was his return that was supposed to spur a final push at Atlanta, not trigger the final slide.

Ultimately, the Nationals just have a lot of players who have to return to form for next season, or they’re in serious trouble. I think that will happen…but I’ve been burned counting on this team to turn around all year long.