Following an 8-3 victory in Game 3 of their 2016 National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Washington Nationals seemed to be sitting in pretty good position to advance to the National League Championship Series for the first time since the franchise moved from Montreal to Washington DC in 2005. All the Nationals had to do was win one of the two remaining games in the series and the team would be on its way.
In Game 4, with their backs against the wall, the Dodgers put ace Clayton Kershaw on the mound despite only have three days of rest. After a shaky first inning, Kershaw largely dominated the Nationals until the seventh inning. With Washington down 5-2 and the bases loaded, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled his ace in favor of Pedro Baez to face right-handed hitter Jayson Werth.
Baez would only end up throwing one pitch that hit Werth on his left elbow pad and made the score 5-3. Roberts would then pull Baez to bring in left-hander Luis Avilan to face left-handed hitter Daniel Murphy. Murphy would hit a two-run single that tied the game and Kershaw ended up being charged with five earned runs.
With the momentum on their side, it looked as if the Washington Nationals were going to pull the come-from-behind victory and advance to the NLCS. Unfortunately, the Nationals wouldn’t put another runner on base the rest of the game while reliever Blake Treinen allowed the winning run in the eighth. After getting the first two outs of the inning, Treinen hit Andrew Toles then allowed back-to-back singles to Andre Ethier and Chase Utley to allow Toles to score.
The 6-5 defeat in Game 4 of the NLDS was certainly not what Washington was looking for, but the team at least had the comfort of ace Max Scherzer being ready to pitch in Game 5. The Dodgers had already burned Kershaw in Game 4, which left Roberts with Rich Hill for Game 5. With the edge in the starting pitching matchup and home-field advantage, the Nationals were in great position.
Washington would take a 1-0 lead in the second inning of Game 5 after an RBI single from Danny Espinosa that scored Daniel Murphy. Although Scherzer didn’t have his dominant stuff, he was able to make that lead stand until the seventh inning when Joc Pederson hit an opposite field home run to tie the game at 1-1. With Scherzer nearing 100 pitches, manager Dusty Baker pulled his starter in favor of lefty Mark Rzepcynski.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) October 14, 2016
The lefty would come in and walk Yasmani Grandal on four pitches before being replaced by righty Blake Treinen when the Dodgers pinch-hit Howie Kendrick for Toles. Kendrick would single to put runners at first and second with no outs. Charlie Culberson then pinch-hit, but struck out while trying to bunt.
With two on and one out, Baker summoned left-hander Sammy Solis from the bullpen to face Chase Utley and Corey Seager. Roberts then responded by using his backup catcher Carlos Ruiz to pinch-hit for Utley. Ruiz rewarded Roberts’ decision with an RBI single that put the Dodgers ahead 2-1. After a flyout by Seager, Shawn Kelley replaced Solis and promptly gave up a two-run triple to Justin Turner to push the Dodgers’ lead to 4-1.
Roberts would then turn to left-hander Grant Dayton to protect the lead in the seventh inning, but the rookie walked Espinosa and then gave up a two-run homer to pinch-hitter Chris Heisey to make the score 4-3. Clint Robinson would follow with a single before Roberts would go and get his pitcher.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) October 14, 2016
With nine outs to get, Roberts didn’t pull any punches as he brought in his closer Kenley Jansen. It was a surprising move as it was going to be difficult for a guy that had never pitched more than two innings to be able to go three. Jansen would allow a single to Bryce Harper and an intentional walk to Murphy in the seventh, but he got out of the inning by striking out Anthony Rendon.
After a lead-off walk to Stephen Drew in the eighth, Jansen would get the next three hitters in succession. At the completion of the inning, the entire baseball world was shocked to see Kershaw walking out to the bullpen to warm up. It seemed as if Roberts had a master plan if Jansen wasn’t able to finish the ninth.
Jansen would strike out Trea Turner to begin the bottom of the ninth, but then it was obvious that he was out of gas as he issued walks to Harper and Jayson Werth to put runners on first and second with one out. That’s when Roberts brought in Kershaw to close out the game. After allowing a flyout to center to Murphy, Kershaw struck out Wilmer Difo to send the Los Angeles Dodgers to the NLCS to face the Chicago Cubs as reported by USA TODAY.
Since 2012, the Washington Nationals have won the National League East Division three times, but the team has yet to advance past the NLDS. Despite having one of the most talented roster in baseball, the Nationals just haven’t been able to perform in the postseason and this might’ve been the last chance for a large portion of the team.
General manager Mike Rizzo is the No. 1 target for the Arizona Diamondbacks in the organization’s search for a team president. Rizzo was with the Diamondbacks from 1998-2006, and was the team’s Director of Scouting from 2000-06. Arizona chose Josh Byrnes over Rizzo in 2006 to become the team’s general manager so Rizzo went to Washington and took the Assistant GM role.
In addition to Rizzo, closer Mark Melancon, catcher Wilson Ramos, infielder Stephen Drew, relievers Mark Rzepcynski, Matt Belisle and Sean Burnett, and starter Mat Latos will all be free agents this offseason.
Ramos is an interesting case as he had a monster year at the plate for catcher as he batted.307 with 22 home runs and 80 RBIs. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in the final week of the regular season and will be out six-to-seven months after surgery. It’s obviously going to affect the type of deal that Ramos receives whether it’s from the Nationals or another club.
It’s not just Rizzo and the free agents either. Stephen Strasburg is battling arm issues one again, Jayson Werth will turn 38 next season which is the last in his deal and the entire bullpen is going to have to be rebuilt for the second year in a row. Additionally, Bryce Harper regressed considerably from his MVP season in 2015 as he only hit.243 with 24 home runs and 86 RBIs.
There will be a lot of questions facing Rizzo, or whoever the general manager would be if he were to leave for Arizona. It’s quite possible that we’ve seen the best of this group and it will end without a championship for the Washington Nationals.
[Featured Image by Patrick Smith/Getty Images]