This was the worst loss of the Nats’ season. Never mind what you’ll find in the box score, which is par for the course at this point. A Nats starter pitched excellently, allowing two runs over seven innings, but the offense struggles to support him, scoring just one run and striking out six consecutive times to end the game. No, the worst part about tonight’s game was the drama that accompanied it. In the third inning, Bryce Harper hit a towering bomb off of Julio Teheran. He stared the ball down as he ran the bases, and Teheran took offense. In Harper’s next at-bat, in the fifth, Teheran drilled him in the leg on the first pitch. Harper threw his bat down in disgust and cursed Teheran out as he walked to first. The benches cleared, but no one fought and nothing more came of the confrontation.
The reason tonight’s game was the worst loss of the season was because there was no brawl. I’m not saying there should have been a brawl. In the ideal outcome, Harper says nothing, walks to first, and this is just part of the game. But Harper was upset, and if you’re this far out, what do you have to lose? Harper said he didn’t consider charging the mound because “14.5 games down, I need to be in the lineup.” 14.5 games down, you need to show some heart. If it pisses you off, don’t take it lying down. This might be the least logical, scientific, or quantifiable claim I will ever make, but I believe it very firmly nonetheless: the Nationals lack heart and it has contributed to their losing. Whether it caused the losing from the beginning or is effect of it I don’t know, but it’s a significant part. Davey Johnson is already mentally in retirement. His justification for the new lineup pregame was pretty much “I have no solutions here.” After the game, he literally admitted to having no idea. When asked about the Nats’ offensive struggles, he said “I don’t know. I don’t have an answer.” If he has no answers, he should resign immediately. His attitude is reflected in the rest of the Nats. If Harper didn’t charge the mound in the fifth, Gio Gonzalez should have drilled someone in the top of the sixth. He would have been ejected, no doubt, but if the Nationals were going to get mad about this, they had to do SOMETHING. Showing that you care and backing up your teammate is more important than pitching two more innings. Being upset about this and not doing anything about it is letting the Braves trample all over you. They can beat you in the standings, but don’t let them take your dignity.
The Nationals go out every day and flail their bats helplessly and let down their starters. Davey Johnson doesn’t know how to change it. I’m certainly less qualified than he is to fix the Nats, but I have an idea.
Show some passion. Get mad. Get mad at the terrible exercise in frustration that this season is, and let it all out.
Bryce Harper did. How come nobody else has?
Most Important Nationals Hit: Bryce Harper’s solo home run (+12.8%)
With one out in the fifth, Harper took Teheran deep. The bomb was his seventeenth of the season. As he rounded the bases, Harper may have admired the hit. I didn’t see exactly what he did as he rounded the bases, so I can’t really say to what degree he did anything. Did he deserve to get plunked? I don’t know. But the fact remains that he did, and it should have lit up the powderkeg of frustration that the Nationals clubhouse should be.
Most Important Nationals Pitch: Evan Gattis‘ single (-25.7%)
A single, a walk, and a sacrifice bunt put two Braves in scoring position with two outs in the top of the fifth. Unlike the Nats all season, which I would argue is a product of luck, the Braves got a timely hit. Gattis’ single scored both runners, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead. The pitch was Gonzalez’s lone error of the night, as he gave up four of his seven total baserunners in the game in the fifth inning.
Champ of the Game: Harper (+12.1%) was the only Nationals hitter who did not have a negative WPA. The other two Nats with positive WPAs were relievers Craig Stammen and Ian Krol. Gattis (+19.5%) entered the game for Jason Heyward after he left with an injury after only two pitches, and went 1-3 with the Braves’ only RBIs of the night.