A series of flat performances by the Washington Nationals have fans wondering where the passion is as the team tries to clinch postseason play.
There are many words that describe the 2016 Washington Nationals. At the moment, good is not one of them.
As the team prepares to clinch their third National League East championship in five years, the Nats are sleepwalking when they should be razor sharp.
You would think they clinched the division a month ago and are playing out the string. The only thing the Nationals wrapped up is nothing.
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Sure, the chances of them blowing everything is nearly nil. They still hold an eight-game bulge for the second Wild Card spot with 12 games left. Washington has seven home games left, against the Arizona Diamondbacks and Miami Marlins. All signs still point to home field advantage in the NL Divisional Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Except, the Dodgers have cut the gap in that race to three games. After holding a big edge most of the year how embarrassing it would be to fly across the country to open a series, you should. Not everything is done and dusted.
We could go into a variety of statistics explaining everything, but the clutch performances of Trea Turner and Daniel Murphy skew the numbers. Washington has a winning record this month at 10-7. Before this recent three game skid, they were paying better than .667 ball for the month. What happened?
First, give the Atlanta Braves credit for playing all-out when their season and stadium are done. Ender Inciarte and Adonis Garcia will not be missed by anyone between Richmond and Harrisburg this offseason. With jobs on the line and a new stadium in the spring, the Braves played with passion and intensity.
Or the complete opposite of the Washington Nationals.
From Bryce Harper’s decision to play as shallow as possible in right field over the weekend, to botching routine plays in the field and on the bases, you would think the Nats season was over next weekend. If they are not careful, it will be the week after that.
For a team that responded so well for manager Dusty Baker and his staff after Matt Williams left, the brand of overall baseball on the field is disappointing. Once you mentally check out during a season, turning that focus back on becomes tricky. You would think the team has read all the press clippings anointing themselves as champions and stopped trying.
That is not true, but where is the focus to finish the task at hand. They need to host Game 1 and the dreaded Game 5, not wearing the road gray’s in the California twilight.
Yes, with expanded rosters and the eternal bullpen fests that come with September, it is easy to get lost in the grind. Still, the Nationals have plenty to play for. How soon they understand that will determine how deep into October they play.