Yesterday marked one more week off the schedule ending the overriding feeling of “running in place” for this Washington Nationals team. The Nats complete another .500 week as does their main opposition, and the chance on Thursday to getting a winning streak going never materialized. The tragic number is down to 24 in both the division and the wild card standings, and only a spectacular ending (something like 25 – 6) coupled with a near collapse by the teams ahead of them will prevent 2018 from going down as a colossal failure.
In a year in which the Nats were built to go all the way, they have not taken advantage and jumped back into the race. The NL East competition should clearly be at least a year away from being legitimate threats for the Nats, and yet they have managed to fumble their way through a miserable season for most of it. I think the analysis of the failures have been many and throughout the year most everyone on the Nats payroll has been blamed for the under-achievement one way or another from players to coaches to management to the owners to the media to the trainers to the doctors; there is plenty of blame to go around.
To put things in the most high-level perspective there are 3 main elements to a professional sports team:
1) Ownership and they aren’t going anywhere
2) The people in charge of building the roster led by the GM
3) The manager and coaching staff who are in charge of getting the most out of the roster built by the GM
Without going into everyday minutia and the x’s and o’s when a team suffers a failure, when a team does as poorly as the Nats have done in 2018 the people in Groups 2 and 3 should be evaluated — and their continued employment should be questioned. While this might not happen everyone should be on final notice in 2019. For many reasons which we have covered ad nauseum, it might be unlikely that such a shakeup will be undertaken or even considered — but everyone surviving 2018 should be on final notice for 2019.
When looking at 2019, there is an obvious list of positions which must be addressed in some form or another, but all the moves required could fall after the Bryce Harper domino falls. There are 2 paths to roster construction — one with Bryce and one without. General manager Mike Rizzo’s most important task should be to “not allow” the Harper situation to drag on to where other moves are affected. When the Nats decided against a fire sale on July 31st (understandably), there were consequences. The team was caught between a rock and a hard place. They can’t allow this to happen in the off-season also. The Harper strategy needs to be completely in place including deadlines so subsequent moves can be formulated.
The final month will give us an opportunity to look at some players with an eye to 2019. In about a week, we will hopefully see some of the interesting farm hands come up. Players like Victor Robles and Austen Williams might be given meaningful auditions and some on the major league roster such as Wilmer Difo and Spencer Kieboom might give us further clues on where they could fit in 2019. In subsequent days, we will start looking at individual players and discuss if/where they fit into next year’s team.
And let’s remember that the teams ahead of us are on a serious ascent in their youth movement and success as we have seen this year. The Braves with their large infusion of young talent and the Phills with huge financial flexibility may not be going away anytime soon. The days of a “cake walk” to the division title appear to be over. The task is to remain in the mix and not fall back to irrelevance because we all remember what happened to the 2015 Mets who were one and done, and the Nats stayed relevant and back at the top of the division in 2016.