The time for excuses is over. It’s time for the Nationals.

 (AP Photo/Alex Brandon All rights reserved)

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon All rights reserved)

Now it is the time if you are a Nationals fan. Curses don’t exist. Excuses exist. Cut the excuses, and make the positive changes. Theo Epstein who was the architect of the rebuilds in Boston and Chicago showed twice it is possible as he ended singular franchise droughts of 86 years for the Boston Red Sox and 108 years for the Chicago Cubs. Washington, D.C. has not won a World Series since 1924. That is a longer drought than the city of Cleveland, Ohio.

Mike Rizzo is the architect of the Washington Nationals, and it just seems the Nationals are close to being the team we need, but keep falling short. A few bounces in the right direction, and the results could be different. Could. But don’t count on it. To go all the way, you have to commit to going fully in with change.

The first major change made by addition by subtraction was ending the Drew Storen era, and by doing so the Nationals went through a post-season with no 9th inning blown saves. Change for the sake of change is not good, but change to improve is needed. That is what Theo Epstein does.

In 2014, the Cubs were 73-89 and they were awful. Theo Epstein is an architect in building teams. Two years later, the only starters who remained were Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks. Just four players while their minor league system was readying key players. Javier Baez was called up in 2014 for a taste of the Majors, and Chris Coghlan was a starter who was moved to the bench. Travis Wood was moved from starter to the bullpen. Hector Rondon was moved from closer to set-up. Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm remained. Jorge Soler debuted. Nine players remained as Jason Hammel was traded for Addison Russell and then reacquired as a free agent—what a key trade that was.

Joe Maddon was acquired as the manager. Jason Hammel and Jon Lester were acquired in 2015 as Free Agents. Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell were promoted to the Cubs in 2015. Dexter Fowler and David Ross were acquired. 15 players remained.

The team released Edwin Jackson on July 27th of 2015 even though he was owed millions. Other players were also given their walking papers.

The final touches by Theo Epstein were made in the off-season and during the season. John Lackey, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward were all acquired through free agency. Carl Edwards, Willson Contreras and Albert Almora were promoted from the minors. Dexter Fowler was re-signed as a free agent late in the off-season. Aroldis Chapman, Joe Smith and Mike Montgomery were traded for to solidify their bullpen near the trade deadline. And that is how the championship for the  Chicago Cubs was built.

‘Built’ is the operative word. Architects plan out ‘builds’.  How can Mike Rizzo build his championship for the Washington Nationals? It has to come with some change. Change is personally painful. Sometimes it is parting ways with players. Sometimes it is taking a popular player  and moving him to the bench or taking a highly paid player like Jason Heyward and sitting him.

Changes were made by the Cubs.

Even though Jason Heyward wasn’t great on the field, it appears he took his veteran status and brought his teammates together in a quick meeting during the 17 minute rain delay after the 9th inning, and his teammates credit him for the 10th inning rally.

“If you aren’t hitting, what are you going to do to help your team win,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said in the off-season.

It seems Jason Heyward took that to heart, and spoke from his heart with motivating words to his teammates. He did it with his arm and his glove in the series. He did not do it with the bat. Maddon had benched Heyward a few games in the post-season, but when he played him he lessened the impact of his slumping bat by moving him to the back of the batting order. Contrast that with Terry Francona who kept a struggling Mike Napoli (9-51 in the post-season) in the clean-up spot in the order. Napoli went 0-5 last night and batted .167 for the World Series. Small things are big things.

The Nationals entered the post-season with the same position players they had at the trade deadline. Michael Taylor made the post-season roster. Danny Espinosa was still the starting shortstop. Gio Gonzalez was a starter in the post-season. Jose Lobaton was the starting catcher for most of the post-season. Ryan Zimmerman only had one hit with RISP (runners in scoring position) in the post-season which was a ball that clanked off of the rightfielder’s glove. The same issues that existed in July existed in the post-season except for the change in the closer spot with the acquisition of Mark Melancon. Could keeping Melancon and Ramos happen?

“…We’d love to have [Wilson Ramos] back, we’d love to have Mark [Melancon] back,” Mike Rizzo said. “They were key components to what we did last year and we’re going to make a run at both of them. There’s a deal to be had out there, it’s just that two parties have to meet on it, and we’re certainly going to discuss it with both guys and we’d like to have both guys back.”

Injuries were an issue with Stephen Strasburg and the late September injury to Wilson Ramos, and the Nats did not have the personnel to replace two key All-Stars. Maybe those injuries were the reason, however if you look at the Indians they were without their best player, Michael Brantley, and without starters Danny Salazar (who only worked as a reliever) and Carlos Carrasco.

As to those who believe in the luck factor in the post-season, striking out with runners on third base and less than two outs removes luck as a factor. Luck is a factor on batted balls. Swinging and missing at pitches in critical spots can be a game changer, and it was in the Nationals final game of the 2016 NLDS.

“Obviously we had men on 3rd base with less than two outs three different times [in the final game 5], we had the right guys up there three different times and we couldn’t get it done, so a tip of the cap to the Dodgers,” Mike Rizzo said of the Game 5 loss. “[The Dodgers] played well. We could have executed better. I expected us to win that game, and we didn’t, so we have to examine what can we do to improve ourselves and get us to the next level, and we’re hell-bent on working hard and doing that, and putting a team out there that the D.C. area can be proud of.”

Those are Mike Rizzo’s own words as parting shots on the Nationals 2016 season.

No excuses. Get it done.

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