That crash you heard this weekend was the smashing of a specific fantasy — that the Nats were fated, entitled, virtually ensured by dint of self-certified talent to rip off a winning streak before they sank their season. Just 10 games ago, that seemed likely. Now, after being swept by the Dodgers and scoring only five runs in three games, the burden of proof has shifted.
You can go 48-50, as the Nats are now, and still recover. In ’96, Davey Johnson’s Orioles were 50-51 on July 26 and won 88 games, which is about what the Nats probably need to win to make the playoffs, and ended up in the League Championship Series. It’s possible.
You can fall seven games out of the division lead yet mount a charge. You can show every sign of a team-wide gag on pressure and expectations, yet at some point get a punch in the nose that awakens or infuriates you. You can be one of the worst hitting and worst fielding teams in the majors, butcher fundamentals, treat basic base running like it’s tougher than solving cold fusion and still somehow find the light of a winning streak.
But can you do those things wrong and still make the playoffs if your manager admits he has no answers to the problems (except “patience”) and talks about a trip to Bora Bora next April with his wife? Can you do it if the GM is so snippy that, when asked whether Danny Espinosa might return from Class AAA to the majors, he acts like he can barely remember who Espinosa is? When everybody is this out of whack, just don’t make it worse.
Even if the Nats have a chance to add Jake Peavy of the White Sox or Yovani Gallardo of the Brewers, who both are under team control through ’14, the Nats should only make the deal based on the assumption that almost all of the value is for next year. With Ross Detwiler on the disabled list, rookie Taylor Jordan on an innings limit, Dan Haren dragging a 5.61 ERA, Ross Ohlendorf just a gritty stop-gap vet and Jordan Zimmermann, who gave up seven runs in two innings on Sunday, pitching through neck pain for two months, adding one pitcher may not be enough to stabilize this rotation.
Sometimes, a team, a manager or even a general manager deserves the vote of confidence that being an aggressive buyer at the July 31 trade deadline implies. They’ve earned the help. The Nats haven’t earned it.
They deserved all the praise they got last season and much of the syrup that was ladled on them this preseason. All that fun was real. Their talent is not a mirage. They still have enough ability on hand to redeem their season — if they can. But they haven’t shown enough poise, maturity or offensive punch to trade long-term assets to help their postseason chances now.