It’s the closest losses that hurt the most, that reverberate throughout your week and cling to your clothes like humidity in a Washington summer.
So many times, throughout the series, the Nationals seemed poised to blow the series open. Game Five alone contained more “what if”s than a Taylor Swift album – from Jayson Werth’s outfield mishaps to Lobo-Gate.
Staked to a 4-1 lead at home, it seemed the Nats’ postseason demons were about to be eradicated. Unfortunately, as has too often been the case, they left the proverbial door ajar just enough, that to give the Cubs the faintest glimmer of daylight. And, as World Champions do, they hung in there and scraped their way back.
Like the deepest of wounds, these losses will hang a nasty scar on Washington fans’ psyche, right next to a portrait of Drew Storen. As the calendar flips closer to the year’s passing, however, attentions will re-focus on the familiar refrain of “next year”.
General Manager Mike Rizzo – who is probably halfway through his third bottle of scotch by now – was the architect of 2017’s loaded roster. Now, he will be tasked yet again, with the tinkering and tweaking, the molding of a 2018 team that could represent Washington’s last hurrah with impending-free agent Bryce Harper.
First and foremost on his shopping list (aside from more scotch) should be the component that framed MLB’s biggest narrative of the year: power.
You couldn’t venture far down a highlight reel, this season, without seeing clips cut from an Aaron Judge or Gioncarlo Stanton at-bat. Guys like that change the entire rhythm of a game, with each Yankees or Marlins hitter a tick of an imaginary minute hand, counting down to the sight of those imposing figures standing in the on-deck circle.
The Nationals line-up, for all its “professional hitter”-types, lacks the guy that will put the fear of God into pitchers. Harper – who, to be fair, likely wasn’t 100% – has shown flashes of being that guy, but the Cubs weren’t exactly walking on eggshells around his at-bats.
With Werth coming off the books, the Nationals’ outfield picture for next year looks something like this:
At first glance, they appear to be set. However, it remains to be seen whether Eaton returns at full-strength. Also, judging by his injury-plagued career, it is clear they cannot assume he can weather a full season’s workload.
As for Robles, he has all potential in the world. He is also 20 years old, and would be best served with at least one more full season in the minors to hone his raw skills.
Assuming they don’t re-sign Howie Kendrick, they will have some extra money to play with – especially with Werth’s mega-contract coming off the books. All options need to be explored, including trades.
Michael A. Taylor was a Godsend, this series. While he made strides this season, it’s probable that we already know who he is: a streaky-hitter who has five tools – but not always at the same time.
Propped up by a career-high .363 BABIP, Taylor posted his best professional season to date. The Nationals need to ditch all senses of sentimentality, however. If they can leverage him in a package for a big slugger, they should strongly consider it.