From our Nats beat reporter, Chad N. Freud:
Calling Dr. Phil…
A few weeks ago, I referred to the Nats debacle as a soap opera. That was wrong. It’s now a WWE storyline. Holy freaking cow. You cannot make this stuff up. The last dugout fight I remember was the Cubs, four or five years ago, Carlos Zambrano and his catcher, and then Zambrano and Derrek Lee I think in another one. Clubhouse fights happen every once in a while (Sammy Sosa didn’t break his ribs sneezing). Dugout fights aren’t very common.
The background on this is that, in the middle of getting swept by the Orioles last week, Jonathan
Papelbon decided to drill Manny Machado. There had been a lot of high and tight over the series, with nobody getting actually hit, but the O’s pitching Harper inside and the Nats pitching Chris Davis inside. Manny’s mistake was that he crushed a Max Scherzer 98 mph fastball in the 7th to go up 5-4. So in the 9th, Papelbon decided to dispense some old school justice and hit Machado in the head. (Luckily, Manny took it in the shoulder instead.) Papelbon was ejected. Benches cleared, the Nats’ very slowly. Clearly, no one on the Nats thought this was justified. In the clubhouse, Bryce Harper talked to the press and mentioned sourly that he was probably going to get drilled tomorrow in retaliation. Papelbon viewed this as criticism of his actions, and thus he was looking for a chance to get back at Harper.
Even though the Nats had been eliminated Saturday, Harper still played the next day. And when Harper jogged lazily to first on a pop fly (first was occupied), Papelbon decided to ride him about not running hard. Over and over. Harper said “Let’s %$#@ing go.” And they did.
You cannot touch the Golden Child. Harper is the franchise’s All-Star, and the Nats think he’s on a HOF trajectory. You cannot touch him. And the fact that Jonathan Papelbon doesn’t know that, or doesn’t care, is an indication of just what an idiot he is.
Normally, Papelbon would be traded for a ham sandwich (who’d take him?) or released. You don’t want this guy in the same clubhouse with Harper. Given how much the pennywise Lerners hate wasting money, there’s no telling what will happen. Some post mortem observations:
- Bad GMing
As you may recall, I noted a few weeks ago the insanity of the trade for Papelbon. Over 2014-15, up to the trade deadline, you could make a case that Drew Storen was the best relief pitcher in baseball. 2014: ERA 1.12, WHIP 0.976. In 2015, pre-Papelbon, ERA 1.69, 29 for 31 in save opportunities. What the Nats needed at the trade deadline were a couple of setup guys to get the ball to Storen. What they went out and got was another closer who was probably the best-known clubhouse cancer in all of baseball. And they took the ball away from probably the then-best closer in the NL (apologies to CK) and gave it to this jackhole. Not only that, but part of the Papelbon trade required them to pick up Papelbon’s option for next year: i.e., he was going to close next year too. Thanks for playing, Drew.
This was the second time the Nats had thrown Storen under the bus. In 2011, after being lights out all year, closing 43 games, he blew a save in the NLDS against the Cardinals. Rather than chalking this up to a one-off, the Nats demoted him to setup and eventually went out and got Rafael Soriano to close, which is a bit like telling you that you lost the role as romantic lead to the current version Meg Ryan. Storen lost all his confidence and went into a tailspin.
Having fought his way over the last four years to the closer role and success, the Nats pull the rug out from under him again. Result: Storen goes into second tailspin, spinning a 7.36 ERA after Papelbon rolls in. Storen then punches his hand against his locker, breaks his thumb and is lost for the last three weeks of the season.
The silver lining? Not only have they destroyed Storen’s mojo, twice, maybe for good, they’ve got the guy who took a swing at their NL MVP signed for next year at $11 million. Good job, Mike Rizzo!
- Bad managing
For weeks, there had been speculation about whether Matt Williams would return. Not any more. He drove his last nail in his own coffin when he sent Papelbon back out to pitch the next inning, AFTER the brawl. Inexplicable.
I honestly thought Williams would be a good manager. Good player, hardnosed, old school, reputation as a hardass. But he’s basically toned down the yelling to the point where he appears to be sleepwalking through the season. Every post game loss press conference is the same. Pulse never above 72. “We’ve got to put this behind us and play tomorrow.” Every game.
Don’t know if this passivity that ownership has imposed on him, or some sort of philosophical change but the Nats could have used some yelling. Actually, they could have used a lot. Few on the team seem to care a whole lot about winning and losing. And that’s part of why they’re trying to finish above .500 rather than coasting into the World Series.
- Bad ownering
It was in no way a coincidence that the Braves starting getting good when Ted Turner starting losing interest in the Braves and starting dating Jane Fonda instead. Likewise, the local flaming tire mountain of a football team is entirely the product of one Daniel Snyder’s personal obsession with dictating all player moves. The Lerners meddle in stuff that they should leave to the GM (not that this is an endorsement of Rizzo).
Scott Boras is NOT your friend. And if you continue to let him run your team for you, the only thing that will happen is that Scott Boras and his clients will get rich.
The Nats just announced that they have suspended Papelbon for four games — i.e., “for the rest of the season” — and they’re docking his pay, too. But the damage has been done, and they continue to own his contract for 2016.
As a local gumshoe on the scene, it is hard not to notice the lack of fire in this team. There is a lot of horseplay and high spirits that seem to take precedence over winning and losing. There’s a lot of post-game chocolate sauce pouring and such. Not so much of the hardnosed baserunning, hitting the cutoff man and fundamentally sound baseball.
The ESPN guys were actually saying that this episode and the Nats’ underachievement were so egregious that the Nats may need to return to rebuilding mode. Not sure it’s that bad, but it’s certainly dysfunctional. I expect Williams will go, Rizzo may hang on.
Good times, good times.