After all, why be miserable with 67 games left? For two weeks, the Nats have been as close to full health as any club is in July and, at times, their hitters have shown the first signs all year of rousing themselves. The Braves have been so dreary (42-40) for three months that any good team should think it has a chance to catch them, especially since their whole outfield is now hurt.
But the Nats are different. Nothing “normal” has applied to them this season. They are a sports psychiatrist’s dream. Unless you know what’s going on in their zany brains, how can you guess what they’ll do next? Do they even have a clue themselves?
Bad baseball has its own deranged fascination. The Nats, even in their win on Sunday, often seem caught in its grip. If you love scary movies, watch the Nationals; they constantly seem to be one panic attack or brain freeze from their next disaster. If such a constant state of stress is not for you, then welcome the all-star hiatus as a respite from watching the public torments of an earnest, overconfident, prematurely entitled and disoriented team.
Being swept by the Fish is like being pistol-whipped by a flounder. Yet the Nats almost met that fate after Stephen Strasburg was knocked out in two innings and lost to Nathan Eovaldi on Friday; then Harper got a selfish ejection for arguing called strikes on Saturday, contributing to a loss.
The Nats trotted off happily after a 10th-inning win Sunday with Span, in his new slot, contributing three hits. But, if they are honest, they’ll look at this 2-5 road trip, and their last mundane six weeks (20-18 against some of MLB’s worst teams), and ask themselves again: What is wrong with us?
The midseason picture of the Nats is homely. They haven’t hit (next to last in MLB in runs per game) and they haven’t fielded (third from last). Their infielders and catchers have combined for a horrid 55 errors to only 25 for the crisp-fielding Orioles. That speaks directly to state of mind and focus. The Nats haven’t kept their heads in the game enough to execute fundamentals. If you gave them a sabbatical and a genius grant they couldn’t figure out how to get down a sacrifice bunt.
The same style that, deservedly, made Johnson the manager of the year in 2012 may be fizzling this year. His spring-training methods — short workouts and early tee times — look smart after a 14-4 start like last year’s. They look lax when your team bungles about three simple plays per game, month after month.