Dirt flies as Washington Nationals’ Jayson Werth, right, dives into home plate but is thrown out by the Milwaukee Brewers during the fourth inning of a baseball game at Nationals Park in Washington, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, left, is in on the play. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
After more than 100 games of total team ineptitude from the Nationals offense, Washington team manager Matt Williams, on August 20, has finally decided that sticking to the usual batting lineup isn’t working. It may seem like some grand experiment moving Jayson Werth to the leadoff position—especially considering his less than stellar average since coming off the disabled list. But Werth has actually been in this exact position before.
Coming off an injury and needing a spark at the top of the lineup in 2012, former team manager Davey Johnson moved Werth to leadoff and it was a catalyst for the first divisional title in Nationals history. This time, though, it reeks of desperation. That 2012 team was a feel-good story for all of baseball to enjoy. This year’s story, however, tells of a team that has shrunk under the massive expectations of fans and prognosticators alike, and how its manager, who has advised everyone else all season not to panic, has now done just that. Most pundits following the Nats this season believe something drastic should have been done weeks ago, but perhaps it is better late than never.
Werth has actually done a solid job in his new role, hitting .292 to raise his overall average to the Mendoza Line (.200).
Another Nationals move that was made under the radar on Aug. 20 was the promotion of young infielder phenomenon Trea Turner to the big leagues roster. Turner, along with surprise starter Joe Ross, were acquired in the offseason in a three-team trade for Steven Souza Jr., and it looks like this trade could end up being another feather in the cap for Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo.
Turner has been more than outstanding this year in the minors as he’s been rated the ninth best prospect in the sport. It has to suck for Ian Desmond to watch his eventual replacement walk into the clubhouse in the middle of a pennant race, but that’s where the Nationals are at this point. This quote from Rizzo kind of sums up how disappointing things have gone this season:
“We felt Trea was going to be a September call-up anyways,” Rizzo said during a press conference. “And maybe this was a time to inject a little more speed and youth and athleticism into the ball club. We felt like it was an opportune time to take advantage of some of his skills.”
(As a Black man, I know all about coded language. This is the epitome of it from a sporting standpoint.)
Five games out of the divisional lead isn’t insurmountable, but in the last two weeks, the Nats just haven’t taken advantage of any missteps the National League East division’s leader, the New York Mets have made. When the Mets were swept by the Pittsburgh Pirates on Aug. 14-16, Washington could have cut into their lead. Instead, the Nats were swept themselves by the reigning World Series Champion San Francisco Giants to back-end a season-defining six-game losing slump.
The remainder of Washington’s schedule lightens up at this point with plenty of home games to possibly spark a nice run, but the same can be said for the Mets. Each game through the rest of the season will be paramount.
The good thing for Washington fans is the recent play of starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who has looked every bit the ace fans expected him to be. But now that’s he’s finally playing well, will the other guys in the starting rotation step up with him?
Slugger Bryce Harper continues to be a machine at the plate, but will the other guys in the batting lineup follow his example?
These are questions we will all find answers to over the upcoming month. Hopefully for Nats fans, the answers will leave Washington still competing in October.