Harper, for Maybe the Final Time as a National, Gives DC a Moment They’ll Never Forget

Harper, for Maybe the Final Time as a National, Gives DC a Moment They’ll Never Forget

By Matthew Jacobson

Often when I write for this site, I do my best not to mince words. This season, by the standards set by just about everyone, from national media to local media, to the coaching staff and players, and to the fans, has been a disaster. The Nationals sit 5.5 games back of the first place Philadelphia Phillies (who are doing all they can to acquire Manny Machado from the Orioles), their star players (save Anthony Rendon and Max Scherzer) have all fallen below what we expected of them come the beginning of the season. There have been calls to fire the manager, trade star players, and even sell at the deadline, a concept that would have been considered unheard of at the beginning of this season.

But last night, none of that mattered. Last night, for possibly the last time, Bryce Harper shined on the national stage, repping himself, his team, and his city.

Harper, who made a few enemies by showing up to the Stanley Cup Finals in DC wearing Vegas Golden Knight gear (Bryce was born and raised in Sin City), more than made up for it last night.  Harper was introduced to raucous applause in front of his home fans, and himself was decked out with an American flag arm sleeve and a DC flag headband. Personally, I think he looked ridiculous, but at the same time, it was awesome to see him embrace a city that during the past 6 years has embraced him as one of our own.

Harper’s first-round opponent was Freddie Freeman, a man who has made a living torturing the Nats on the baseball diamond, and the fans let him have it. For all the crap that DC fans have had to put up with during the extensive “loser generation,” these past few months have shown just what a championship can do. Freeman joked about getting booed, but the crowd wasn’t joking. They were behind their hometown hero, and it helped. Harper continuously egged the crowd on during each of his three matchups, and afterward sang their praises, saying how much of a boost they gave him.

The ballpark was electric last night on a national stage, and often I found myself getting emotional, thinking about how this could be the last time Harper puts on this type of show for his home fans in DC. Harper has done his best not to discuss publicly his upcoming unrestricted free agency, but with the Nationals struggling as much as they are, it’s difficult not to think about the future. Harper, who plays the game with incredible passion and vigor (much to the chagrin “baseball purists”), likely wants to end up in a place where he can win. Before this season, we all felt that the Nationals were that place, and despite a closing window, DC has proven itself to be a great town for baseball, and last night’s festivities served to reinforce that notion.

Harper defeated Freeman, Max Muncy, and Kyle Schwarber, en route to a home run derby victory at Nationals Park. I could go into more detail about how he won, including an epic final-round showdown with Schwarber that would’ve been worth the price of admission alone, but I feel like this sort of topical analysis doesn’t show just how significant this moment was for DC baseball fans.

Harper more than likely won’t be a National after this year, which is just the unfortunate reality of sports these days. The Islanders saw it with John Tavares. The Oakland Athletics have seen it time and time again with big stars whom they could not afford to pay. Hell, Johnny Damon left the Red Sox a year after ending the curse to sign with the Yankees. Players have the right to make their money, and Bryce Harper is no different. The Nationals likely have to play .600 baseball just to have a shot at the postseason.

Looking back on this year a few years from now, what will likely be Harper’s last with the team that drafted and developed him, may be unpleasant. At the very least, we’ll have last night to look back on fondly.

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Stars Shine for Nats in 5-4 Win

Stars Shine for Nats in 5-4 Win

By Matthew Jacobson

Coming into last night’s game against the Mets, Anthony Rendon had not only been the Nationals’ best hitter this season, but arguably their most consistent as well. Rendon, who homered twice in a 5-4 win to open a 4-game series with a win, has been a bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season so far for the Washington Nationals. Sure, the moments have been there from the team as a whole, but the lack of consistency and puzzling managerial decisions (more about this later) have made the Nationals an infuriating team to watch, let alone root for.

Following a Juan Soto opposite-field single, Rendon smacked the first pitch he saw into the left field bleachers, providing Max Scherzer with a 2-run advantage before he even stepped on the mound. Scherzer, a likely frontrunner to start the All-Star Game for the National League (in his home ballpark nonetheless), has set the bar so high for himself during his tenure with the Nats that his last few starts have been, by his standards, disappointing. Scherzer did exactly what the Nationals needed him to do last night, and he put the team in a position to win. Scherzer went seven innings, allowing three runs on five hits, walking two, and striking out five. He allowed two solo home runs, a problem he has run into more and more as of late, but as mentioned earlier, he pitched well enough to give the Nats a shot. Rendon would hit another homer, a solo shot, and Bryce Harper tacked on a 2-run moonshot to right field, giving the Nats five runs, and they would need each and every one of them to hold on to this win.

Approaching the 8th inning, it looked like all three of Kintzler, Madson, and Herrera were ready to go. Dave Martinez elected to send Kelvin Herrera, who was one of the best closers in baseball before coming over via trade from Kansas City, out for the 8th inning. Herrera, whose stats are far and away better when he pitches the ninth, struggled, allowing several baserunners, as well as a solo home run to Asdrubal Cabrera, cutting the Nats lead to one run. Herrera struggled in the 8th, but allowed just the one run, putting Ryan Madson (whose stats show he’s better used in the 8th inning), in position for the save. Madson locked it down, inducing a tailor-made double-play ball to Trea Turner, but one has to wonder; with both pitchers (all three including Kintzler) available, why switch their roles?

It’s clear by the numbers that Madson prefers the 8th inning and Herrera the 9th, so why would Dave Martinez flip-flop them? Lucky for him it didn’t cost his team the game, but with every game meaning so much from now until the end of the season?  Martinez needs to do everything in his power to get this team turned around. This means concrete strategy, not using 7 different lineups in 8 games, and pitching relievers where they’re most comfortable. He can talk all he wants in press conferences about the inevitable turnaround he seems to think is on the horizon, but he needs to do more than that. He needs to lead, and find consistency in a ballclub that has been anything but since the start of June.

Tanner Roark, he of 3-11 record and 4.76 ERA, looks to guarantee at least a split of this four-game series, the Nationals’ last before the All-Star break. Noah Syndergaard comes off the DL to face the Nationals. Syndergaard is 4-1 with a 3.06 ERA. First pitch is slated for 7:10 PM.

Opportunity Knocks for Nationals before All-Star Break

Opportunity Knocks for Nationals before All-Star Break

By Matthew Jacobson

One week from tomorrow, the eyes of the baseball world will be on Washington DC, as the American League All-Stars meet the National League All-Stars in the 2018 MLB All-Star game. This will be a phenomenal opportunity for the Nationals as an organization to show off the area, as well as their ballpark, on a nationally-viewed stage. Three Nationals (Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, and Sean Doolittle) will partake in the game in front of their home fans, however before all the festivities (including the Futures Game, which Michael and myself hope to be at, as well as Home Run Derby and the game itself), the Nationals play seven more times, looking to build momentum off of a successful 4 game series against the Marlins. Continue reading “Opportunity Knocks for Nationals before All-Star Break”

Nats Closer Sean Doolittle Named NL All-Star

Nats Closer Sean Doolittle Named NL All-Star

By Matthew Jacobson

Ask any Nats fan who the slam-dunk, no-doubt All-Star on the Nationals roster was, and many if not all of them would respond with Max Scherzer. While they wouldn’t technically be wrong, as Scherzer is on pace for another NL Cy Young, and maybe even MVP, what they don’t realize is that Sean Doolittle as having as impressive a season as any reliever in baseball. Coming from an organization that has overlooked the bullpen for so many years, having it be the downfall of the team in both regular seasons and playoffs past, having a closer represent the Nationals at the All-Star Game, let alone the one at Nationals Park, is a testament to the front office having learned their lesson. Continue reading “Nats Closer Sean Doolittle Named NL All-Star”

July 5 2018: A Play in Several Acts

July 5 2018: A Play in Several Acts

By Matthew Jacobson

Just past 7 PM on July 5, the year of our Lord 2018, the Washington Nationals, losers of 5 consecutive games which saw them drop to a game below .500 and 7.5 games back of first place in the National League East, began a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, a team that had thrown in the towel six weeks before the season even started. I was not watching the game when it begun, and I saw as the Marlins took a one nothing lead. That one nothing lead swelled to 3-0, then 4-0, and with a Martin Prado 2-out, 3-run home run, the Miami Marlins led the Washington Nationals 7-0.

The following are my tweets from the night, in sequential order, with context provided when needed. This post is to serve as my eating crow for thinking the Nats were cooked.

Baseball’s a weird game, the only one that does not have a time limit, no matter what the commissioner seems to want moving forward. The beauty of the game is that it is always a one possession game. The game does not stop until nine (or more) innings are played, and the winning team gets the losing team out 27 times. Even down 9-0, the Nationals still only trailed by one single possession. I present to you my unfiltered commentary from this evening’s bonkers game. Mike and I will have more hopefully tomorrow to debrief this craziness, but this is a win that can define a season.  Much like the Met game in early April, the Nats need to build momentum off of this going into the All-Star break.

Act I: Hopelessness

Act II: Snide Remarks

Act III: Hope, for some reason

Act III Part II: Stale Memes

Act IV: Hope, with Less Skepticism

Act V: Holy Crap

Act VI: Please Just Let us Have This One

Act VII: VICTOIRE!

The first time the Nationals made the playoffs in 2012, Dave Jageler proclaimed “Remember where you are, so you remember where you were.” Hopefully, we can look back at this game as the start of something great for this ballclub. Let’s do it again tomorrow night.

Well, maybe the winning, not so much the digging a 9-run hole.

Holy Crap.

Opinion: Enough is Enough; The Nationals Should Fire Dave Martinez

Opinion: Enough is Enough; The Nationals Should Fire Dave Martinez

(Photo: Rob Carr- Getty Images)

By Matthew Jacobson

Never in my life have I seen a team play with less conviction, less heart, and less effort than the 2018 Washington Nationals. In a year that was supposed to see them get “over the hump,” the Nationals have played some of the most uninspired baseball in their history, which is unacceptable given the talent on this team. Sure, injuries have taken their toll, and to some degree, we haven’t seen what this club looks like at full strength (every starting hitter and pitcher in a lineup), but that is absolutely no excuse for how awful this team has been as of late. After a torrid May, which saw the Nationals take sole possession of first place for a brief bit, everything has come crashing down. They can’t hit, the starters can’t get through five innings, let alone six, and they’re not doing the little things. Poor baserunning and pitch selection from inexperienced catchers mean they’re giving away outs to opponents, who are taking advantage of the Nationals.

This is a team that came into the season with expectations of greatness, despite not having won a playoff series in five opportunities. Instead of working on fielding, contact plays, or situational baserunning in spring training, Dave Martinez elected to bring in camels and practice celebrating walk-off wins (of which the Nationals have ONE this season). As a result, his team became complacent and entitled, ignoring the fact that the Phillies invested in free agents Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana to go on top of one of the best farm systems in baseball. The Atlanta Braves, who the Nationals trail by SEVEN games, have had one of, if not the best farm systems for several years, and their youngsters are paying serious dividends. The NL East has been one of the worst divisions in baseball over the past three years, and the Nationals foolishly expected more of the same, and did very little to improve their ballclub despite several glaring weaknesses at the beginning of the season (who fills in for Murphy? What about a 5th starter? Catcher? Long reliever?). The entitlement runs from players to coaching, and all the way up through management, who I’ve had problems with for years on end now.

The problem isn’t Bryce Harper, who’s getting on base at a .360 clip, leading the National League in home runs, and is pretty close to the lead in runs batted in. The problem isn’t Anthony Rendon, who’s been damn near the only bright spot during an otherwise forgettable season. It’s not Scherzer, it’s not the injuries, it’s not Murphy, it’s not Turner, it’s not any of the pitchers quite frankly (despite a few of them not living up to expectations). As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, Dave Martinez has instilled a sense of entitlement and complacency to this ballclub that they have NEVER had under previous managers. Martinez’s unrelenting positivity in the face of serious adversity, adversity that this club has not experienced since 2015 when everything went fubar under Matt Williams. This team has shown their true colors; that despite all the talent, they’ve simply been led to believe that their talent will win them the division, regardless of the Phillies and Braves wanting it way more, and busting their butts every game to ensure that they get it.

Enough is enough; It’s time for the Nationals to let Dave Martinez go, and change the culture in the dugout from one of complacency to one of urgency. Letting Dusty Baker go after last season was the right decision, and in no way am I advocating to bring him back. His decisions directly correlated with coming up short the previous two postseasons. But at least he got there, and as infuriating as the decisions were, the Nationals under him were a win away from advancing twice in two years, winning back-to-back NL East crowns for the first time in their history. This year, under Martinez, they’ll be lucky to be the visiting team in the wild-card game. Should this happen (and if nothing changes, it will), this will be an even more spectacular failure than 2015, a season in which Bryce Harper was the unanimous NL MVP. On paper, this team had the talent to make a run into October. Injuries have taken their toll, but the “next man up” mentality this team showed in a torrid May is gone.

My gauge for if someone should be fired is “can we immediately find a better option?” As Joe Girardi continues to sit at home on the couch, watching as the Nationals season continues to spin out of control. the answer is clearly yes. Girardi would have been the slam-dunk hire after letting Dusty Baker go, but the Lerner family opted to go for the cheaper option (again) and hire Dave Martinez. It’s clear it isn’t working, and if the Lerners are too afraid to swallow their pride to get this season back on the right track, this team will be viewed as even more of a joke than it already is. How the Nationals are playing right now is unacceptable, and if nobody is going to be held accountable for the complete and utter failure of a season, that doesn’t send a particularly good message to the fans.

Firing Dave Martinez may not solve all of the Nationals problems, but it would at least provide a façade of accountability within the organization. Continuing to do nothing will just sink the Nationals deeper and deeper into a hole, and it’ll be 2015 all over again. There is an out, and if I were the Lerners, I would take it.

Like Him or Not, Jayson Werth Changed the Nationals for the Better

Like Him or Not, Jayson Werth Changed the Nationals for the Better

By Matthew Jacobson

Yesterday, the worst kept secret in the league finally got out. None of us really wanted to believe it, but Jayson Werth announced yesterday that he would be retiring from professional baseball after a lengthy career, including 7 seasons with the Washington Nationals. Werth signed a massive 7-year, 126 million dollar deal for a team that was coming off another big-time losing season. The Nationals were almost universally mocked for giving Werth, albeit a good player, that type of money. The following year, the Nationals were on the brink of being a great team, and many say they would have had manager Jim Riggleman not walked out on the team following a contract dispute. But in 2012, the legend of Werth was born, and it was on one October evening that Jayson proved his worth (haha puns)

The home run (never mind the 13-pitch at bat the led to it) was epic, and it forced a game 5. Despite the Nationals’ failure to win that series, the team finally looked like they could build some momentum, and transformed from a bottomfeeding, perpetually rebuilding team, to a force to be reckoned with in the National League East.

Matt Snyder of CBS Sports wrote an article after the conclusion of last season, taking those who called the Werth contract outlandish to task. An excerpt is below:

“In seven years for the Nationals, Werth hit .263/.355/.433, good for a 113 OPS+, so in terms of getting on base and hitting for power, he was 13 percent above average. It’s OBP-heavy, as .355 is great over a seven-year span, especially for a player in his 30s.

The peak of the deal was 2012-14, when Werth hit .303/.394/.479 (139 OPS+). Injury hampered him in 2012, but in 2013 and 2014, he posted 4.7 and 5.0 WAR (Fangraphs), respectively, which is All-Star level.

Using a formula that involves WAR, Fangraphs calculates how much money a player is worth per season. It had Werth being worth (haha!) $72.4 million in 2013 and 2014 alone. Of course, over the rest of the deal, he wasn’t overly valuable. They peg his value over the life of the deal at $97.6 million”

Snyder continues, saying that most everyone is going to overpay in free agency, and only losing out on 28 million dollars worth of value over the lifetime of a contract is not something to lose sleep about. While the Nationals did not win a playoff series with Werth (and have still yet to), his impact on the organization really knows no bounds. He helped young players such as Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon become professionals. He provided stability for a once unstable franchise, making DC a destination for sought-after free agents like Max Scherzer and Daniel Murphy. And, he provided some pretty memorable sound-bytes:

This came after a walk-off hit against the eventual World Series Champion Chicago Cubs in late-June of 2016. Werth’s candid attitude (despite ticking off some media members) and passion for the game made him an easy fan-favorite, hence why it was so hard to see him go after last season.

The Nationals wouldn’t be where they are today without the contributions of Jayson Werth, and despite a lack of success in the postseason, the Nationals have proven to be one of baseball’s most consistent teams since Werth arrived in 2012, having won the second most games in that stretch. When the Nationals do eventually win the World Series, we’ll look back at the signing of Jayson Werth as the catalyst to creating a winning baseball franchise in Washington, DC. Something that a mere 10 years ago seemed impossible.

Thanks for everything, Jayson. Baseball in DC, and baseball as a whole, will miss you. Don’t be a stranger.