Welcome to The Stew’s annual team elimination posts. Like our video-game posts of last year, these are best done in theme. This time? We’re going with “Game of Thrones.” Each eliminated team will join the “army of the dead.” But we won’t just talk about their demise. We’ll also highlight some positives, pick out a memorable moment, tell you their biggest need and let you know when the club might be good again.
Sorry, Washington Nationals, but you won’t sit on the Iron Throne this season.
What can you even say at this point? For the fourth time in the last six seasons, the Nationals dominated in the regular season. By all accounts, this was the strongest team they’ve put together during their recent run. Bryce Harper returned to MVP form, Anthony Rendon joined him, the team boasted three starting pitchers who will receive Cy Young votes and made big moves to solidify the bullpen at the deadline.
Then, the National League Division Series happened … again.
The Nationals will be contenders again in 2018, but there’s a real sense of urgency this time around. Harper is entering his final year under contract, and while he could re-sign, the thought of hitting the market seems too tempting to pass up.
The team’s run has been excellent, though ultimately disappointing. The next year could be the last with its current core, so Washington will have to do whatever is necessary to solve its postseason woes.
Let’s take a deeper look at the year that was in Washington, D.C.:
UNBOWED, UNBENT, UNBROKEN (aka WHAT WENT RIGHT)
The Nationals dominated the National League East, winning their fourth division title in six seasons. They did it by finishing top six in runs scored and ERA. And they did it by getting high-level production from more players than in years past. Obviously, Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg were excellent when healthy. They also got a true resurgence from Ryan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez, not to mention true career years from Anthony Rendon and Michael A. Taylor. This was arguably the strongest Nationals team we’ve seen during the half-decade stretch filled with them. (Mark Townsend)
THE RED WEDDING (aka WHAT WENT WRONG)
The postseason happened … again. For whatever reason, the Nationals just can’t get over the hump and win their first playoff series since moving to Washington. Bryce Harper’s dramatic game-tying home run leading to their win in Game 2 seemed like potential turning point. So did Michael A. Taylor’s grand slam in Game 4. But it was right back to disappointment in Game 5. Washington caught bad breaks on some really close calls, and ultimately did themselves in with costly errors in the field. It’s the game that derailed their championship aspirations, and it will haunt them for a long time. (Townsend)
THE NORTH REMEMBERS (aka MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT)
The wounds of another postseason loss might still be fresh, but we can’t help it. Game 4 of the NLDS stands out as the Nationals’ best moment this season. It started with Stephen Strasburg, who gutted through illness to completely dominate the Chicago Cubs. Strasburg gave up just three hits over seven innings, striking out 12.
Despite his tremendous effort, the Nationals still made things tense. With the team up just 1-0, Michael A. Taylor broke the game wide open with a grand slam in the eighth inning. The Nationals won, and forced a Game 5 (which we don’t have to talk about). On a day where the Nats needed a win to keep their season alive, Strasburg and Taylor delivered in a major way. (Chris Cwik)
WORDS ARE WIND (aka MOST IMPORTANT THING TO FIX)
It’s simple, the Nationals have to find a way to solve their postseason woes. OK, it’s not simple at all. The club will return most of its core next year. The only players of consequence leaving are outfielder Jayson Werth and reliever Brandon Kintzler. Werth will likely be replaced by 20-year-old Víctor Robles.
There’s no obvious replacement for Kintzler — or Oliver Perez — so the team may once again focus on strengthening its bullpen. Getting another strong reliever to pair with Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, who don’t have the greatest track record of health, would be useful. On top of that, the team will need to try and replace depth in case injuries strike. One huge move isn’t necessary. Minor tweaks work best. (Cwik)
A DREAM OF SPRING (aka HOPE FOR THE FUTURE)
It’s time for Víctor Robles to show the world what he’s got. The 20-year-old got a taste of the majors in 2017, and is the most logical replacement for Jayson Werth. Robles may be young, but he’s exceptionally talented. He ranked ninth on Baseball America’s midseason top-100 prospect update. The club should also work in pitcher Erick Fedde, who also got some time in the majors this season.
The team’s other top ranked prospects: Outfielder Juan Soto, shortstop Carter Kieboom, and pitchers Seth Romero and Wil Crowe, all remain in the lower levels of the minors. Given the team’s current situation, some of those players may not be long for the organization. It may be more useful to get rid of them in favor of guys who can help now … before Harper leaves. (Cwik)
PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES
San Francisco Giants | Philadelphia Phillies | Cincinnati Reds | Chicago White Sox | New York Mets | San Diego Padres | Atlanta Braves | Detroit Tigers | Pittsburgh Pirates | Oakland Athletics | Miami Marlins | Toronto Blue Jays | Baltimore Orioles | Seattle Mariners | Tampa Bay Rays | Texas Rangers | Kansas City Royals | Los Angeles Angels | St. Louis Cardinals | Milwaukee Brewers | Minnesota Twins | Colorado Rockies | Arizona Diamondbacks | Boston Red Sox | Cleveland Indians
More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:
– – – – – – –