Nats’ lost weekend doesn’t mean all is lost


Nationals pitcher Tom Gorzelanny reacts after allowing Laynce Nix of the Phillies to hit a solo home run on Sunday. The Nats have lost four in a row, including a three-game sweep during the weekend to the Phillies. (H. Rumph Jr/Associated Press)

You come down and write the column!

Oops, I didn’t see you all there. I didn’t mean for you to hear that. Everyone out! Give me 15 minutes to cool off. Maybe I’ll go hit some helmets in the tunnel. I hear that’s a real stress killer.

There, that’s better. I was just having a discussion with my boss, that’s all. No biggie.

And it’s not, you know. A biggie. A four-game losing streak? Base running brain freezes by veterans? Another tantrum by Bryce Harper? Manager Davey Johnson and GM Mike Rizzo getting into it after the game, with Johnson telling Rizzo to “come down here and manage the team” after Sunday’s loss? Eh. That’s baseball.

The Nats didn’t have their best weekend ever, getting swept by the Phillies. But it’s hardly the end of the world.

Unless it is. (Cue dramatic music.)

The Nats have the best record in baseball, but I’m not the first or last to (once again) caution that that doesn’t mean anything. They haven’t firmed up a reservation at the local pub to watch the playoffs, much less locked up a postseason berth. It can all slip away. They have only to look as far back in history as a year ago, when the Atlanta Braves, though completely outstripped by the Philadelphia Phillies for the NL East title, had a huge lead in the wild-card race and lost it on the final day of the regular season when the St. Louis Cardinals moved past them into the postseason. That ended well for the Cardinals.

So of course, it can still all go wrong for the Nats. I just don’t think this weekend was an indication of that. (Cut dramatic music.)

I think they had a bad weekend. Who among us hasn’t had a bad weekend? They’ve lost four in a row. So what? Like that wasn’t going to happen? It’s a 162-game schedule. So the base running wasn’t stellar — and by Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche, guys who should know better. And the normally crackerjack starting pitching was humdrum. Ho hum.

It’s Johnson’s job to settle them down, if they even need settling. They are at the point, with 77 wins, where they should be confident (not cocky) and be able to shake this off. Having Stephen Strasburg on the mound Tuesday night in Miami will help, although he probably could do without the humidity. Ah, well, what can’t be cured must be endured.

Having Ian Desmond and Michael Morse back would help even more. Johnson needs the power hitting and he just needs the warm bodies, as was made clear Sunday, when he pulled a double switch. When the music stopped, Harper had no chair. At least he handled it well.

“I told [bench coach] Randy [Knorr], ‘Tell the kid, I have one player left and I’m double switching with him,’ so he doesn’t kill himself down there,” Johnson said. “He didn’t get to him right away. [Harper] was destroying helmets in the runway. So I said, ‘Randy, will you get to him? Please get to him.’ But I really had no choice. I didn’t care if it was Babe Ruth. I had one player left, and I have to have as many batters to stay in the game as possible.”

Is it any wonder Johnson was a little testy after the game, when his veterans make base-running gaffes and his prize rookie is playing Whack-A-Mole in the tunnel? I love Harper’s moxie, I really do, and I like the way the Nats have let the 19-year-old play through what are going to be some natural growing pains — one walk in his past 54 plate appearances is certainly painful for all concerned. But heavenly days, I would like to have been a fly on the wall in that runway. Well, maybe not. Then again, he hit a wall before, the wall hit back, and now he’s hitting helmets. So that’s growth right there.

Also: poor Knorr. How would you like that job? You get to approach the young, angry kid armed with a bat and tell him it was a numbers thing. At least Johnson compared him to Babe Ruth. Sort of. The Babe would have been pounding hot dogs, not helmets, so perhaps Harper’s approach is better. Although if Johnson had pulled Babe Ruth in the sixth inning, he and Rizzo would really have had something to fight about.

This is pennant race baseball, folks: losing streaks, base-running gaffes, histrionics. It’s all forgotten in October — if everyone survives till then.

For Tracee Hamilton’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/hamilton.

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