Other suggestions, such as a svelte Taft joining the Rushmores and the Curse of Teddy — inflicted on the team after he finally won the presidents’ race at the end of last season — made me chuckle. But most amusing was the oft-repeated “They Should Have Never Let Michael Morse Go” references.
Morse has become the reverse scapegoat, the thought being that if the popular clubhouse presence and big bat were around, Natstown would be dancing and singing hosanas in the aisles as “Take on Me” boomed through the stadium speakers.
No, it wouldn’t. Against the Cardinals in last season’s NL Division Series, when the season mattered most, Michael Morse couldn’t bust a grape in Middleburg. He struck neither fear in the pitchers he was facing nor confidence in his teammates or manager. Long-term, keeping a good guy with great regular season numbers did not make sense.
I’m not going to argue Drew Storen needs to be the closer again. Clubhouse chemistry in baseball is often overrated. You know what builds chemistry? Winning more than five games in a row all season, that’s what.
But Rafael Soriano entering the equation did bring a different dynamic. He’s a loner who’s on his own program, who briefly joins his teammates for warmup throws before the game but doesn’t join them to stretch or shag flies in batting practice.
Yes, that could come across as a double standard, seeing as how Stephen Strasburg is also in his own world and often has the extroverted qualities of Howard Hughes. Just saying: When the new guy in the clubhouse and one of the highest-paid relievers in baseball does his own thing, people notice.
“I don’t see any glaring mental part of this club that has changed or should have been stronger,” LaRoche said, disagreeing on this point. “This is about as close as a clubhouse you can have. We’ve got enough older guys that try to keep things positive and keep the confidence up. But naturally, when you’re winning, it’s a snowball effect.
“But if you continue to get beat down, and have a two-game spurt where you’re like, ‘Okay, here we go,’ and you continue to get beat down again, I don’t care how strong the character is. You’re not going to have the kind of confidence of a team that’s won 12 or 15 straight can have. That’s the nature of the beast.”
A team with this kind of talent and payroll can’t admit it, of course, but perhaps last year and this year were aberrations. In making an incredible 18-game jump in wins a season ago from 2011, camouflaged by 60 final games of lights-out hitting that is clearly not the norm, the Nationals might still merely be a good, young team on the precipice of being a playoff regular.
Oh, they’ve underachieved tremendously, but they shouldn’t have been expected to win 100 games this season based on one year of data. Somewhere between 98 and 80 – let’s say 90 wins — would have been more realistic and in line with who they really are at this stage in their development.
And if the Nationals are not at least that club next year, en route to playing in October, then there are real problems.
For more by Mike Wise, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.