DETROIT — The trade deadline passed late Wednesday afternoon with the Washington Nationals cast as passive observers, not prepared to dismantle their roster but nowhere near good enough to add to it. They did nothing but cling to the hope their lost season will make an about-face, a hope that dimmed on the field at Comerica Park. Another bleak loss dropped them in the standings, and another listless performance suggested recurrence more than reversal.
The end of July, the precise two-thirds mark of the season, provided the Nationals a moment to take stock. Their punishing, 11-1 drubbing at the hands of the Detroit Tigers — which somehow began with the Nationals putting their first three hitters on base against Justin Verlander — topped a bleak tableau: a 52-56 record, 11games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves, 71
2 games out of the second wild-card spot, unfulfilled promise rippling through the clubhouse and no help on the way.
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And then Bryce Harper pierced the malaise with a fiery, optimistic message he aimed at both teammates and a manager who earlier in the day had conceded the Nationals lean more “bust” than “World Series.” After Gio Gonzalez submitted his worst start as a National, the offense fizzled again and another rock-bottom candidate surfaced, the 20-year-old spoke up.
“We got our [butts] kicked for two games,” Harper said. “That’s something you don’t want to have happen. But you got to have heart. That’s the biggest thing right now. You got to play with heart. You got to play as a family. Everybody’s got to want it, starting with the manager on down — everybody. Everybody wants to win this and keep going.
“We need to get going and play better, hit better, have better ABs in certain situations and pitch better, also. It’s just something we need to do. We play the Braves nine games. This [season] ain’t over. I really don’t think it’s over. We just got to keep going, keep grinding and turn into the family that we were last year.”
On Wednesday morning, before Gonzalez gave up 10 runs in 31
3 innings, Manager Davey Johnson reflected on how his team reached this morass. For a reference point, he used the moment in early December when he sat in a Nashville conference center and uttered the phrase that once defined the Nationals’ confidence and now mocks their swagger.
“I don’t regret saying, ‘World Series or bust,’ ” Johnson said. “It looks more like bust. This is my last go-around anyway. What I want to do is what’s best for the organization. I want this ballclub to continue being a first-division ballclub. The Lerner family has done that. [Mike] Rizzo has done that. We’re just not holding up our end on the field. They’re going to run me out of here anyway. But I am optimistic with this team.”
After the game, Harper expressed the need to close ranks and find positivity among teammates and the coaching staff, including Johnson. Harper said he had noticed a dearth of “heart” and a “family” atmosphere for a while but felt as if he lacked the clubhouse standing to say so.