Washington has lost four straight games, including a three game sweep on the road at the hands of the division rival Philadelphia Phillies. The team may be 16.5 games behind the Nationals in the standings with about 35 games remaining on the schedule, effectively guaranteeing they won’t see the playoffs, but they haven’t yet rolled over on their 2012 season considering they’ve now leap-frogged over the Mets and Marlins into third place in the division.
Even with the Atlanta Braves taking two of three at San Francisco over the weekend, Washington still holds a 4.5 game lead in the division and at 77-50 have the best record in all of Major League Baseball.
There is no need for panic in Washington. Yet, that’s exactly what’s resulted from the team’s play over the past few days. Just look at some of the reactions that sprung from Sunday’s game. A discussion broke out among some of the DoD staff that somehow even resulted in our own Andrew Flax pledging that if the losing streak reaches 8 games he’ll shave his head.
The team finished the series at Philadelphia by losing all three games, by scores of 4-2, 4-2, and 4-1. In the clubhouse after Sunday’s game, MLB.com’s Bill Ladson reported hearing Davey Johnson screaming behind a closed door. He was yelling at someone saying, “You come down and manage the team.” There was some uncertainty at the time who that tirade had been directed at, despite speculation stemming from GM Mike Rizzo being seen entering the clubhouse post game. Johnson would later admit to reporters that he “had a discussion with his boss” before apologizing to reporters for keeping them waiting.
To many, however, this was a sign that things were crumbling in Washington. Just go back and look at some of the comments on Twitter over the past weekend. Suddenly Johnson and Rizzo weren’t agreeing. There was friction. There could be a problem. But it was all nonsense. This was an expected situation, when you consider the entirety of what this season has become for the Nationals.
The organization entered the 2012 season expecting to be better and possibly compete for a playoff birth. But now, as August approaches it’s end and the final month of the season is about to begin, the Nationals find themselves with the best record in baseball. They’ve withstood injuries throughout the season that might have crippled another organization. They’ve been forced to integrate multiple rookies into their everyday lineup and have done so without any major hiccups. There’s no denying that they’ve exceeded expectations this year.
But they’ve also done so without a hint of adversity. Sooner or later something was going to have to break.
So Johnson and Rizzo had a heated conversation after the team was swept by the Phillies? Why’s that a big deal? Frustrations developed and came out. It’s likely safe to assume they’ve been ironed out, given Johnson and Rizzo are known to have a strong working relationship. Life will move on.
The discussions will still continue, however, as some suddenly start to panic over the remainder of the season. Some will wonder if the team can keep things going for another month. If they can still make the playoffs for the first time. If they’ll finish above .500 for the first time since their inaugural season in Washington in 2005.
Some even wonder if all of the positive talk about the team’s playoff chances have somehow jinxed them. It’s like witnessing a no-hitter in person and talking aloud about it during the 7th inning. It always ends up coming to an end before you think it will.
The truth of the matter, all is not lost in Washington. The team was beat 4-2, 4-2, and 4-1 by the Phillies in Philadelphia over the weekend. This Phillies team might be in third place right now, but they still won the division the past five seasons. They still possess a great deal of talent on their roster and with the right moves, could be right back in the thick of a division pennant race next season. Let’s not forget, the Nationals weren’t exactly blown out during this series. They fought hard in each game, despite a costly base running mistake that cost the team at least one run Sunday. They did so without two big pieces of their lineup, as Michael Morse and Ian Desmond missed the whole series. They did so against two of Philadelphia’s top starting pitchers in Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.
There is no need to panic in Washington. The team with the best record in the Major Leagues is still in good shape to accomplish two things they’ve never done before – finish above .500 and reach the playoffs.