Friday, August 16, 2013

The Talkative 'Nats

This is the Nationals.

A team of high expectations and an even higher belief in who they are.  This is a team that despite over 120 games of sample size still can not accept their fate and their failure.  From the manager down to their ever-changing roster dynamic, this a team that has struggled with the target they relished having so brightly colored on their backs.

Before the season, Jayson Werth - a man who definitely thinks highly of himself - made it clear to anyone who would listen that it was the Phillies, not the Braves, who were the biggest threats to the Nationals once-again claiming a division title.
"Phillies," he said. "I think everybody is writing them off. They played good in September, when they were healthy. They're not going to roll over, that's for sure." 
And about the Braves? "Yeah, the Braves got the Upton brothers," Werth said. "But they lost [Martin] Prado and Chipper."
Apparently, the Phillies were going to return to prominence despite coming off an 81-81 season and counting the acquisitions of the ancient Michael Young and Jeff Francoeur's Blacker Half as "key pickups."  Werth was truthful about one thing.  The Phillies look like a bigger threat to the Nationals in the sense that they are much closer to Washington in the standings than the Nats are to the Braves.

Earlier this season, the Braves swept the Nationals in Washington.  After the series, Jason Heyward said, "This is week 2, man. The first series against them. A sweep is a sweep. That’s that. But it’s a long season....We’ll see where we finish up in September, but if it’s like this then obviously we’ll feel like we have a lot of good chances."  That's how professional athletes who have done this for awhile do things.  They don't go out of their way to put down their opposition.  They respect them.  Paul Maholm refereed to the Nats as a "great team." B.J. Upton made it clear how important it was to get off to a good start.  After all, the older Upton reasoned, the Nationals are a "very good ballclub."  Fredi Gonzalez echo'd that thought with the exact same phrase.  The Braves manager stressed that we'll have to see how the summer unfolds.

But Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa went the opposite way. After the second of three consecutive April loses in DC, the second baseman just had to add his two cents about the Braves.
“They’re good, I don’t think they’re better than us.”
Thanks Danny.  But here's the thing that you should keep in mind.  When your rival comes in and whips you, don't add fuel to the fire.  Just take your whipping and talk about how you are going to have to take one game at a time.  In fact, all you needed to say is "They're good."  Because the Braves were and are good.  The next day, in the finale of the sweep, Maholm hit Espinosa with a fastball on the wrist.  It is unlikely it was by design, but after playing over a month with a fracture wrist, the second baseman went to the minors with a slash line of .158/.193/.272.  He's been in Syracuse since mid-June, OPSing .570 while being replace by Anthony Rendon, a third baseman doing his best impression of a middle infielder.  Back to the April sweep, after being hit in a 9-0 thrashing by the Braves, Espinosa expressed his confidence over the remaining 16 games against the Braves.  He's missed a good deal of the games between the inter-divisional rivals since, but still went 2-for-18 with nine K's.  Oh, well, maybe be has more confidence against the Gwinnett Braves.

Stephen Strasburg lost 3-1 during the game that prompted Espinosa's brilliant retort about how the Braves simply aren't better than the Nationals.  His lineup managed four hits during the game including a homer by Espinosa for his team's only run.  After the game, Strasburg graciously commented about how he got out-pitched and tipped his cap to Evan Gattis, who tomahawked a fastball into the Potomac.  Wait, no, he said this:
“Honestly, I think our lineup’s better,” he said. “They’re hot right now. It’s early and it’s not about how many wins you necessarily finish up with in April, it’s how many you have at the end of the year.”
You're right, Stephen.  Nationals winning percentage after April - .481.  Current winning percentage as of Friday evening - .492.  That's kind of better, I guess.  Course, there's that whole lineup nonsense.  The Nationals are averaging 3.8 R/G. Atlanta comes in at 4.5 R/G. Only two NL teams were worse than the Nats.  Only the Cardinals are better than the Braves.  Don't worry about giving me any predictions about the upcoming football season, Stephen.

In late July, ahead of a three-game series in which the Braves tore up the Nationals for another sweep in DC, Bryce Harper, ever the nice Mormon, had this nugget of information about the Nationals' chances of getting back into the race.
"We play the Braves nine more times. This shit ain't over."
Amazingly, he didn't comment after the series that there were still six games.  Harper, of course, would go on to act like a punk during the series after taking a pitch from the arm of Julio Teheran.  To his credit, Harper took his base.  Probably because Teheran took a few steps toward him and asked what he was going to do.

And right before the series with the Braves in DC this weekend, the sickly-looking Davey Johnson, who should know better, couldn't keep away from the microphone.
"We need to show them they're not better than us. Stand up and return the favor."
The previous thirteen games in which the Braves took ten showed that Atlanta was better than you. The previous 120 games in which Atlanta won fifteen more games showed that the Braves were better than the Nationals.  Yet, as if it is impossible to accept your failures, the Nationals from the top-down still hold onto this pathetic idea that they - YES, THEY - are better than every team they face no matter what the results say.

I get pumping up your team.  I understand that you simply can't go out and talk about how every team is better than you are.  At a certain point, though, aren't you just hurting your cause?  It's embarrassing to keep with this narrative at this point.

Just shut your mouth, Nationals.

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