But the Nats’ improvement, their maturation, must start at the top of the talent ladder with Strasburg (7-9) and Harper (57 RBI). They have the tools to be exceptional but are currently just very good.
Strasburg has a few too many excuses, maladies and moods. Next year, he needs a new kind of innings “limit”: 210, minimum. He’ll be 26 next July. At that age, pitchers stop worrying about their arms and live out their fate. Be Justin Verlander or be Mark Prior but find out which it is. That’s what Strasburg wants. He says he’s ready to be a horse; give him his head.
Because he is so young, Harper deserves more slack. Per at-bat, he’s improved this year and with normal development is on track to be one of the top 10 to 20 hitters, though it may take a couple of years as it did Ken Griffey Jr. But since he adores attention, Harper won’t get that long leash.
“Is this who Harp’s going to be — .275 and 60 RBI?” one of his teammates said. “Nobody believes that. But he needs to become that middle-of-the-order producer that everybody’s always assumed he would be.”
The Nats’ next manager needs to take Davey’s bubble wrap off Nos. 34 and 37. Johnson gave them two full seasons of cover for their quirks and maturation. Good, thanks. But by Strasburg’s fourth full year and Harper’s third, they’re just pros now. They won’t mind. That’s who they want to be.
All our favorite holidays, birthdays and celebrations come once a year — cake and ice cream! We’re calibrated to that cycle of satisfaction. But trips to the World Series, on average, come only every 15 years and a title once per 30. That’s the game’s harsh baseline. This season, with the whole sport whispering “title” in the Nats’ ears and the Nats agreeing, everything got flipped. The Nats began April thinking immediately of dessert. So every error, blown save and loss led to more tension and joyless frustration.
That spoiled our appetite for what in most towns, and almost every D.C. club in 80 years, would be a season with a 19-win pitcher, five 20-homer hitters, good rookies and elimination forestalled until the last week.
Next year, let’s all start by eating our spinach. It’s expected to taste bitter. Maybe that’ll help the rest of the six-month meal taste sweeter.
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.