Sunday, October 14, 2012

A National(s) Nightmare: Post-Season Disappointment Is Nothing New in the DMV

Whether it’s the lack of winning season, pre-mature post-season exits, or injuries to star players, the Baltimore/Washington area has become all too commonplace for these unfortunate results from their sports teams.  For the past 20 years the area has not seen consistent success from its teams, be it professional or collegiate and when that little bit of success is reached and the expected impending doom is in the air, it still comes as pure shock when the wheels fall off. 

I’m a homer through and through. I love the teams in the DMV, all of them. I hate when people say you can’t root for a Baltimore team or a DC team because of where you are or are from. Why can’t I? Better than being a Cowboys, Yankees, Steelers or Penguins fan. I was an Orioles fan for over 20 years before the Nats arrived and finally got fully behind them 4 years ago while the Ravens I didn’t fully get behind until 2000, the year before the Super Bowl victory.

Since the Redskins won the Super Bowl back in 1992 we have seen about 4-5 good years of Orioles baseball back in the mid-90s which ended in 1997 when that jackass Jeffrey Maier interfered with the ball, a decade of Ravens winning in football, including a Super Bowl trophy; but they’re a team most in the DMV don’t embrace unless they’re from Baltimore; Joe Gibbs come back to try and bring his Midas touch to the Skins, the Terrapins Men and Women’s basketball teams each win one championship, the Capitals tease their fans for the past 5 years with mediocre, at best, playoff performances after great regular seasons, the Bullets/Wizards having about 3 good years in the late 90s and 3 in the mid-2000s and none of that was with Michael Jordan playing for the team. We did manage some wins with the CFL Baltimore Stallions and the indoor soccer Baltimore Warthogs so there’s that right?

Every time the fans start to show up and teams start to look like they could do something with the pieces it blows up. We’ve seen Gilbert Arenas go from the hero Agent Zero to just a zero. Serious knee injuries sidelined his career and guns in the locker room ended it. The Redskins have had as many head coaches, quarterbacks and kickers as the Orioles have had starting pitchers. Stephen Strasburg blew out his elbow and required Tommy John surgery, as did Jordan Zimmerman.

It’s been just over 36 hours and the fans of the Washington Nationals are still in shock over the team’s epic collapse at home against the St. Louis Cardinals. This team was something special, this team was different from every team the area has seen in decades outside of the 2008-09 Washington Capitals team and yet both teams have striking similarities. Both teams were young, energetic, led by star players, dealt with post-season controversy and were the best team in their league only to be eliminated by a team with a lesser record who was lucky to be facing them.

As I stated back when I did my season preview, this team was probably a year away from contending. Instead the team nearly finished with 100 victories. Bryce Harper was called up early in the season and despite some slumps and over-eagerness he brought a jolt to the team and his stellar arm won the team games with by throwing runners out at the plate or by holding them at 3rd base for fear of being thrown out. The pitching was phenomenal and until the playoffs was the team’s strongest facet of their game, I mean the staff strikeouts rivaled the national debt. Stephen Strasburg was almost back to his 2009 form and has given hope to fans and the organization hope for only better days ahead.  Gio Gonzalez, my Cy Young winner this year, was dominant throughout the season, Jordan Zimmerman still didn’t get his run support yet kept the team in ballgames.  Ross Detwiler should have cemented himself as the team’s #4 starter but will probably remain the 5th starter. Then there is Edwin Jackson, the guy that frustrated me most because he’s a really good pitcher but seeing him pitch in Game 3 of the playoffs, entering with a losing record, he just leaves too many balls over the plate. The pen was dominant till late in the season and I wonder if some of that was just the guys being warn down.  Tyler Clippard was amazing in the first half of the season filling in for Drew Storen as the team’s closer and then returned to the set-up role in September after he kept getting shelled for home runs and Storen proved to be back in pre-surgery form.

The hitters had their lulls but not like in year’s past. Ryan Zimmerman dealt with a lingering shoulder issue, which lead to some really bad throws and costly errors, but he still provided the offense you’d expect from him.  Adam LaRoche saved Zimm from quite a few errors and managed to stay healthy the whole season.  Roach ended up hitting .271 with 33 HRs and 100 RBIs and kinda putting the kibosh on my criticism of him in my earlier blog. Espinosa struggled at the plate, striking out way too much and pressing at the end of the season trying to reach the 20 HR plateau. Ian Desmond on the other hand, whom I said was expendable for an upgrade, not only played well defensively (by Ian Desmond standards) but really got it going at the plate with a career high in HRs and making the All-Star team. It’s not that I didn’t think Desi could do it, it’s that I felt the team was running out of patience waiting for him to do it. In the OF my boy Ankiel got cut, Mike Morse (The Beast) missed the first two months of the season and still ended up killing the ball, Bernadina (The Shark) saw his cult following grow, Jayson Werth missed a fair amount of time with a broken wrist but came back strong as a lead-off hitter, and Bryce Harper only reached the 20 HR mark and nearly as many steals to go along with 9 triples. Of course one of the main keys to a team is their catcher and the Nats used about 89 of them because they kept getting hit with season ending injuries so they went out and brought in a guy that I really like, Kurt Suzuki who called a good game and had some timely hits the last month of the season. 

Come the playoffs though what you did in the regular season goes out the window. The Nats entered the series against the Cardinals, who may have been there only because of a terrible Infield Fly Rule call vs the Braves, without Strasburg. Since Spring Training it was known that he wouldn’t be pitching late in the year as the team planned to limit his innings, they just never said what the limit would be. In early September they shut Stras down, despite the criticism by many. I was back and forth on the issue. The team is not guaranteed to be in this position again but long term its best to not overwork the repaired area right away and they want to keep him safe and healthy long term. In the end I became fine with the decision because this team was good enough to still win it all.

Game 1 the Nats win, Games 2 & 3 the Nats get rocked.  I was at Game 3 and the stadium got quiet way too early. The fans wanted to fault Morse for his effort, mind you he has a sore hamstring, but he was also being told to play the fielders incorrectly. You have to play a hitter to pull and the righties were pulling the ball but they had him closer to center and for lefties he was closer to the line. Maybe I’m wrong about it but that’s how I was always taught to play. Also in Game 3 you had EJax, a #3 starter on some teams, a #4 on this team, really is more suited for a 4 or 5 spot in my opinion, was going against a playoff tested former ace. Despite not being what he once was, the Nats were not supposed to beat Chris Carpenter. Game 4 the Nats tied the series in amazing fashion with Werth hitting a HR during a 13 pitch at bat. In Game 5 the team was up 6-0 early only to lose in a fashion that was unlike any disaster that has been witnessed in the area if not all of sports. One strike, all they needed was one strike from Drew Storen and they’re hosting the San Fransisco Giants beginning Sunday in the NLCS, instead they’re all headed back home. I’m not going to write out the whole thing that happened if you watched the game you saw it, if you’re like me it keeps replaying in your head, you don’t need to see ESPN to break it down for you. A 9-7 loss and the season, one that had fans finally filling the ballpark, is over and the second guessing can begin.

Throughout the series it was said they need Strasburg, but they didn’t. He was struggling late in the year, his arm needed the rest because of how hard he throws, and as great as the guy his, having him pitch once in the series most likely wouldn’t have changed much if anything. Their starting pitching as a whole wasn’t what it had been. Through the first 3 games the team had allowed 10 runs in the 2nd inning, that doesn’t help you win ballgames. Gio had two bad innings of wildness, Detwiler had an inning, EJax left balls over the plate in one, Zimm had some struggles, Ryan Matheus hit batters, and their hitters weren’t hitting. Roach had two hits, both HRs in the first 4 games, Bryce and Werth couldn’t hit with guys in scoring position the first 2 games and in game three the Nats would get two guys on base but not until there were two outs. The only bright spot was Ian Desmond both offensively and defensively in the top of the 9th of Game 4. Then in Game 5 it was nothing like the previous 4. They built off the Werth walk-off, everything was going right and then collapse just happened. It wasn’t meant to be. I had already been prepared to write “Welcome to the NLCS Washington” I just needed one more strike and…well…it never came. Before the 9th inning collapse Britt McHenry (@BrittMcHenry) had said she had a bad feeling like the Caps game vs. the Rangers in Game 6…too true. The Caps become known as the Cardiac Caps because of how they play close games and most come down to the final moments or overtime, especially in the playoffs. I’ve dealt with their losses and felt the emptiness after each series. I don’t think any of those can compare to how I felt after the Nats lost.

Then again the Nats weren’t the only team from the area playing in the playoffs. The Orioles made their return for the first time in 15 years and they saw their post-season came to an end just minutes before the Nats game started. They were the team that overachieved more than anyone and they were facing the New York Yankees, they even had the Yankees on the ropes in Game 3 only to lose it and eventually the series. So for me maybe their loss helped in the emptiness but the way the Nats lost is what caused it to linger. Feeling you had it won and mentally reserving your tickets for the next round only to get gutted. Also the Wild Card team has this thing about going deep and even winning the World Series, the Orioles and Cardinals were Wild Card teams. Once the Orioles lost it kind of guaranteed the Cardinals would win right? Am I alone in this thought?

I took to Twitter, as did many, to share my disbelief and even today I see posts by fellow Nats fans and media still trying to get their minds around what happened, this may be because we haven’t reached the water cooler the next day so it could linger till Monday or Tuesday when you talk to people at your office. On Twitter though Morse (@Dc_BEAST38) and Bryce Harper (Bharper3407) mentioned their disappointment while thanking the fans for helping them with a great season, my new favorite announcer; who I hope returns next season and beyond; F.P. Santangelo (@FightinHydrant) tried to keep fans positive and optimistic for the future, the biggest Nats fan I’ve come to find, Tori Hill (@Toribelle4) tried to keep the NATITUDE and the fan base positive and shared her feelings as well as others to all of her followers, while the DC media including Britt, Dan Hellie (@DanHellie), Chick Hernandez (@ChickatCSN) and Eric Bickel (@EBJunkies) all were in shock having never recalled seeing such a spectacle before.

Sports can bring a group of people together but also tear many apart. Moments after the Nats lost Drew Storen began receiving death threats on Twitter. Really? Over a fucking baseball game? This reminded me of the Bruins fans or random assholes that went to Twitter calling Washington Capitals Joel Ward a “nigger” or threatening him with death or any number of other boneheaded comments that were sent his way. Its sports people! It sucks to lose! It’s unfortunate how the season ended but to threaten a man’s life, to not celebrate what was a great season, to understand that your team was just not good enough and to blame it all on one person is ridiculous. To me it just proves that evolution doesn’t exist because some people are too fucking stupid.

As I’ve believed every year with the Capitals I believe the Nats will be back, I doubt the Orioles will be though. Again I said next year would be their (Nats) year. They’ve gotten a taste of success and of failure and they’re going to want it even more next year and hopefully the stands will be fuller more too. I expect the Phillies to be better next year, I’m sure the Braves will be competitive, and who knows what to expect of the Mets or Marlins but hopefully nothing but bottom dwelling. So it won’t be easy, and it shouldn’t be. I want a team that is tested and capable of winning when they need to over a team that has an easy ride to the playoffs. Of course the team is in a tough situation in regards to a few players. Roach is due for a new deal and contract years are steroids to many players careers so will he be able to repeat this production once he has that new contract? He filled the role of Adam Dunn’s bat which is why they brought him in two years ago but the team needs to decide if it’s worth keeping him for another year or two and a few million dollars more or if it would be wiser to move Morse back to first and allow Tyler Moore or Roger Bernadina to full-time outfield.  Does the team keep or trade Store? He was on the block in 2011, which I didn’t believe to be necessary. I think he’s a good young pitcher and think having him and Clipp throwing in the 8th & 9th innings is exactly what this team needs. EJax is up for renewal too. I’d prefer to put Detwiler in his #4 spot and then maybe look for a veteran or if you resign EJax make him your #5.

Regardless of it all, as disappointing as the season finished, this team impressed me a lot. They won over a lot of people in DC. They beat the Redskins and RG3 for much of the opening sports news. They don’t need to do much tweaking. Maybe a new arm or two in the pen, decide on your first baseman and if you need to bring in an OFer; rumor is they’re looking at Michael Bourne but I don’t want him and I’d prefer Josh Hamilton but I know that ain’t happening. They also have to decide who they’re going with at catcher. Suzuki is probably certain to be here but Ramos and Flores are young and could be nice trade assets. I’d stake a lot on the team allowing this to burn within them and come back next year to not only prove it was no fluke but that they’re not this good but even better. How much so? I’ll say it now the Washington Nationals will be the 2013 World Series Champions.

1 comment:

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