If it’s not too painful, let’s take a little time to nibble on some leftovers from this weekend’s three-game sweep in Philadelphia.
Settle in. Grab some coffee. There are a few topics to discuss.
Topic No. 1: Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson met after yesterday’s game and Johnson was heard getting a bit heated during the discussion in his office, shouting, “You come down and manage the team!”
Yes, this happened. Is this a big deal? Is it a sign of the team morale deteriorating or an impending crisis between Johnson and management?
In my mind, absolutely not. There’s a lot of emotion in the world of professional sports, and a playoff race only multiplies that emotion a couple of hundred times over. The Nationals have hit a rare skid and they’re a bit frustrated.
But let’s not overreact here. The Nats are in a position nearly every other team would gladly accept for themselves: They have the best record in baseball and a 4 1/2-game division lead. They have a starting staff with the lowest ERA in baseball, a defense with a top 10 fielding percentage and an offense that has put up the fifth-most runs since the All-Star break.
Johnson has been through this before. He has the full support of Rizzo and the front office, and was in good spirits 10 minutes after he was heard shouting. The skipper knows he has a team with plenty enough talent to make a strong postseason run. You won’t see him panicking.
Topic No. 2: Bryce Harper was pulled from yesterday’s game in the sixth inning as part of a double switch. According to Johnson, Harper got upset he was being pulled and let out some anger by “destroying some helmets” in the tunnel leading up to the clubhouse.
Yes, this happened. Is this a big deal? Is it a sign that Harper’s recent struggles are getting to him or that he isn’t ready to handle the ups and downs of a major league season?
In my mind, absolutely not. Harper’s an emotional guy, but there are hundreds of those throughout Major League Baseball. You know how many guys slam bats or throw helmets or hit a punching bag in the tunnel after a poor at-bat or performance on the mound? More than you could count. You just don’t often see it on the field or your TV screen.
I would even argue that Harper’s emotion and intensity make him a better player, as long as it doesn’t end up getting him hurt again, like it did when a piece of his bat gashed him below the eye earlier this season. I want guys on my team who are passionate and won’t accept failure. I want guys who aren’t happy with being taken out of a game, so long as they treat their manager with respect.
Harper’s a competitor. Let’s not mistake that for something negative just because he smacked around a couple batting helmets.
Topic No. 3: The Nationals were swept by the Phillies, a team that even after the three-game run is still six games under .500 and 16 1/2 games back of the Nats.
Yes, this happened. Is this a big deal? Is it a signal that the Nationals are falling apart or regressing to the mean?
In my mind, absolutely not. The Phillies, folks, are still a pretty darn good ball club with some excellent starting pitching. The Nats dropped three contests in a row, but as Jayson Werth put it yesterday, “We could very easily have won any one of those games.” They got outplayed by a Phillies team which very much was trying to make a statement that they won’t be pushed around by the Nats, even in a season in which they can barely see the playoff picture with a telescope.
Yes, the level of play the last three games was not what the Nationals expect of themselves. They made plenty of mistakes over the weekend, be it on the basepaths, holding runners, allowing late insurance runs, giving up passed balls and failing to deliver at the plate.
But there’s no need to flip out just yet. Given the way the Nats played for the first five months, they were bound to have a bit of a slide eventually. A four-game losing streak shouldn’t create too big a stir, even with some shouting, a few busted helmets and a temporarily bruised team ego tossed into the mix.