Monday, September 28, 2015

National Disaster: The Ending to a Disappointing Season

No matter who you ask they will tell you that a team has to finish strong down the final stretch of September.  That is exactly what the Washington Nationals did in 2014, but 2015 is a completely different story.

September 28, 2014: Washington Nationals starters go 13-0 with a 0.89 ERA down the stretch. This was capped off by a Jordan Zimmerman no-hitter against the Miami Marlins, in a game where Henderson Alvarez was the starter.  The same Henderson Alvarez who threw a no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers to end the 2013 season but this game went very differently for the Marlins.  Zimmerman allowed only 2 base runners, a walk to Justin Bour and a wild pitch strike 3 to Garrett Jones (picked off almost immediately by Wilson Ramos), while striking out 10, throwing 104 pitches with pinpoint accuracy (79 strikes and 25 balls). This was the first no-hitter thrown by a Washington pitcher since Bobby Burke threw one for the Senators in 1931 against Boston. But not only was it the perfect ending to a season that saw the Nationals win 96 games but even this perfect ending had a perfect ending to it thanks to a remarkable diving catch by Steven Souza with two outs in the ninth inning to preserve the incredible start by Jordan Zimmerman.

So now jump ahead a year.

September 28, 2015: The Washington Nationals' clubhouse is in shambles and the phrase "any press is good press" no longer applies thanks to the ending to the train wreck that they have called a season. Today Max Scherzer threw 7.2 innings of no-hit baseball before allowing 2 hits and a run with 10 strikeouts across 8 innings.  But even that is not enough to overshadow the main event of yesterday, Jonathan Papelbon attacking Bryce Harper.

In the bottom of the eighth inning of Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Bryce Harper hit a pop fly to left and disappointedly dropped his head before jogging down the line to first.  No big deal right?  Especially considering it was the first game since the Nationals were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention but Papelbon decided he wanted to "teach" the National League MVP a lesson about always giving it your all.  As Bryce was walking back into the dugout Papelbon was screaming at him so Bryce gave a little back and then Papelbon decided his words were not enough, so he pushed Bryce up against the dugout wall with his hand around his throat before being pulled off.  After this Bryce Harper left the game (not due to injury), while Papelbon went out and pitched the ninth inning, which is absolutely ridiculous considering he attacked another member of his team.  After the game Matt Williams was asked why he still let Papelbon pitch the ninth inning and his answer was "He's our closer", which is absolutely ridiculous and embarrassing answer if you ask me, even if it was later rescinded because he was not aware of the severity of the situation.  That second answer could honestly be worse considering Williams was in the dugout at the time and it means he did not take the time to actually see what was happening among his players during the game.  There has been talk of Williams being out as the manager of the Nationals after this season and it was almost 100% but once you account for this whole debacle it can't be almost 100% it needs to be done.  It is a manager's job to be aware of what is going on in his dugout and among his players and his answer just shows how oblivious he is to what goes on around him no matter how important it is.

Neither player was immediately suspended for the incident but that changed earlier today.  Papelbon was suspended four games, starting Thursday, by the Nationals' front office who stated in a press release that "the behavior exhibited by Papelbon yesterday is not acceptable," and "that is not at all in line with the way our players are expected to conduct themselves and the Nationals organization will not tolerate it in any way."  Add that to the three game suspension Papelbon is now serving for dropping his appeal for throwing at Manny Machado and Papelbon will not return and pitch for the Nationals again this season.  And if the Nationals front office handles this correctly he will never throw another inning for them.  Whether that be trading him this offseason or just releasing him all together and eating the $11 million that they still owe him for the option they were forced to pick-up when they made the deal for him.  I realize $11 million is a lot of money to just pay without any performance but considering Bryce Harper is the face of their franchise and under control through the 2018 season, that is just a small price to pay.

But let's be completely honest here this had little to nothing to do with Bryce Harper not sprinting down the line to first.  Everyone knows that there are occasions where Bryce won't fully run out a fly ball but the majority of the time he is the most competitive player on the field, has an incredible work ethic and is completely committed to the Nationals winning ballgames.  And if you don't remember he has been ripped in the past for playing too hard and sacrificing his body to make a play.  So don't let anyone fool you there is not a more dedicated player on the Nationals.  So while I can't say with 100% certainty, I feel it is safe to say that this has very much to do with what happened when Papelbon hit Machado back on September 23.  To begin with the Orioles' bench cleared and the Nationals' players did not really move or come to Papelbon's defense.  And the bigger reason for this is after the game when asked about the whole situation Harper said "I mean, Manny freaking hit a homer....[and he].....Walked it off, and somebody drilled him. I mean, it's pretty tired. It's one of those situations where it happens, and, I don't know, I'll probably get drilled tomorrow."  Bryce used this to publicly call out a player with a bad temper who knows his teammates don't have his back, I don't think it is a coincidence that this now happens less than a week later.

But with the exception of the actual fight the worst part about it, isn't the way Matt Williams and the Nationals' handled the situation (at least initially).  The worst part is the way people and other players DEFENDED Papelbon's actions, like choking your teammate is ok.  Choking your teammate or another person for that matter is not ok no matter the circumstance.  Can you imagine if a prosecutor got annoyed in court and started choking the defense attorney?  Or can you imagine if a doctor got annoyed at another doctor for the way they were handling something like paperwork and just attacked him?

Joe Girardi: "Well I think the first thing you want to do is break it up because you don't want players to get hurt. It's a tough thing to go through as an organization. It's a game where there are heated exchanges sometimes, sometimes you go overboard, there's frustration in this game and sometimes it's not handled the way you want it to be handled. But you have to deal with it and you have to move on from it and try to learn from it. Those are the things we're going through. My guess is that they'll get to spring training and it probably won't mean nothing. But right now it's just a heightened situation."

Bengie Molina also tweeted something along the lines of: it is ridiculous that Papelbon was suspended for trying to be a leader and yelling at an entitled young "superstar"; but I can no longer find the actual tweet because it was taken down.  It is a disgrace that these these veterans who the young players are supposed to look up to are condoning violence.  To say that it is just a part of the game is an unacceptable answer to violently attacking and CHOKING another player.  But not everyone sided with Papelbon.  Cliff Floyd and Mark DeRosa publicly came out and said that what Papelbon did was not acceptable and Floyd took it a step further and said that if it was him, he would be planning his retaliation.  At the end of the day this will eventually blow over and most likely be concluded with Matt Williams and Jonathan Papelbon no longer members of the Washington Nationals' organization.

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