2017 Washington Nationals
2017 Washington Nationals / Franchise: Washington Nationals / BR Team Page
Managed by Dusty Baker
History, Comments, Contributions
The 2017 Washington Nationals posted the best record in the major leagues in April, finishing the season's first month at 17-8. They already had a five-game lead in the standings at that point. The strong start was due to excellent hitting, highlighted by a .420 average, 11 homers and 29 RBIs by 1B Ryan Zimmerman. RF Bryce Harper hit .391 with 9 homers and 26 RBIs, and also set a major league record with 32 runs scored in April. 2B Daniel Murphy hit .343 and SS Trea Turner was at .317. Off-season acquisition CF Adam Eaton also had a great month, hitting .297 with 24 runs scored in 23 games as the team's lead-off hitter, but he suffered a torn ligament in his knee on April 28th and was lost for the remainder of the season.
In spite of the strong start which saw the Nats built an apparently unassailable lead over the four other teams in the NL East by the middle of May, there was one major area of worry: the bullpen. They knew coming into the season that they needed to add some relievers, what after the departure of Jonathan Papelbon, who had lost the closer's job by the end of the previous July, and the free agency of Mark Melancon, a trading deadline acquisition who had filled in very well during the last two months of 2016. The Nationals made bids on a number of available potential closers, including Melancon, Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman and Greg Holland, but came up empty in each case. They had to fall back on existing resources, but the first man to get the job of closer, Blake Treinen, failed badly, and none of those who were asked to take his place - Enny Romero, Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover - gave indications that they had the mettle to handle the job on a daily basis. Ironically, there had been an excellent candidate in the organization not long ago in Felipe Rivero, but he had been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates the year before in order to acquire Melancon, so he was no longer in the picture as well. It was therefore expected that GM Mike Rizzo would need to bite the bullet and pull off a trade to strengthen his team's main area of weakness.
The Nationals were widely mocked for a bizarre rain delay that occurred before a game with the Atlanta Braves on July 6th. They delayed the start of the night game for over three hours, apparently because weathermen were expecting a torrential downpour to start any minute. Problem was, there was no rain falling - and the tarpaulin was not even unrolled. Eventually, only a brief, light shower fell down. The Nats had been rained out by a typical Washington summer rainstorm a day earlier, so it seemed that someone in charge was convinced that history was about to repeat - but the team was left embarrassed when it did not. The team redeemed itself by offering fans at the ballpark patient enough to sit through the long delay free ice cream, soda and water. The announced crowd of 22,000 had dwindled to mere hundreds by the time the first pitch was thrown at 10:10 pm. In spite of these hiccups, the team's first half was simply outstanding, as they went into the All-Star break with a record of 52-36 and a 9 1/2 game lead over their closest pursuers. their dominance of the NL East was such that one site put their odds of winning the division at 100%. They managed to get three starters elected to the All-Star Game - 1B Zimmerman, 2B Murphy and RF Harper, while Max Scherzer was tapped to start the game on the mound. The only real area of concern remained the bullpen, as they had enough resources from within to compensate for the absence of SS Trea Turner, out with a broken wrist since June 29th. On July 16th, they moved aggressively to address this, sending Blake Treinen and two prospects to the Oakland Athletics in return for two relievers with solid track records, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle.
On July 27th, the Nats tied a major league mark by hitting five homers in the 3rd inning against the Milwaukee Brewers, and tied a team record with 8 homers in total in a 15-2 win. Brian Goodwin, Wilmer Difo, Harper and Zimmerman homered consecutively off Michael Blazek in the big inning, and Rendon added a fifth long ball one out later. Harper had already hit a two-run shot in the 1st, and Zimmerman and Jose Lobaton both went deep in the 4th to tie the team mark. On the final day before the trading deadline, the Nats completed their bullpen makeover by acquiring another top-rank reliever, getting All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler from the Minnesota Twins. Madson was hurt soon after being acquired, but Doolittle proved to be as good as he had been a couple of years earlier when he was an All-Star for Oakland, as he took over the closer role and began pitching in shut-down style. Turner returned from his injury in late August, further strengthening the team. As a result, the Nationals became the first team in the majors to clinch their spot in the postseason, securing the division title on [September 10]]th when they defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, 3-2, while the Braves downed the Miami Marlins, their closest - albeit very distant - pursuers.
The Nationals won their division easily and had home team advantage in hosting the Chicago Cubs in the Division Series, but were once again expelled from the postseason without reaching the League Championship Series, losing Game 5 at home after getting an early lead on October 12th. It was one nightmarish inning that did in the team, with Max Scherzer on the mound in an unfamiliar relief role, allowing four runs on a bizarre sequence of events that had to be witnessed to be believed. They lost that decisive game, 9-8, and a few days later, manager Dusty Baker paid the price by being fired.
Awards and Honors
- All-Stars: Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman
- NL Cy Young Award: Max Scherzer
- NL Silver Slugger Award: Daniel Murphy (2B)
- Richard Justice: "Now is time for Nats to shore up bullpen", mlb.com, June 30, 2017. 
- Bob Nightengale: "GM Mike Rizzo vows to fix long Nationals nightmare - their flailing bullpen", USA Today Sports, May 21, 2017. 
- Bob Nightengale: "In firing Dusty Baker, Nationals' gutless arrogance on display", USA Today Sports, October 20, 2017. 
- Jorge L. Ortiz: "Despite adding experience to a depleted bullpen, Nationals may not be done dealing", USA Today Sports, July 16, 2017.