The Nationals had a disappointing season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2015. In the first part of our Nationals 2018 Season Review Roundtable, we look at the biggest disappointments and surprises for the season. Be sure to check in tomorrow for Part Two where we examine what went wrong and what is on the offseason to-do list.
What was the biggest disappointment of the season for the Nationals?
Amanda White: The regression of quality in the team’s starting pitching was their biggest disappointment. Their starting rotation was the envy of major leagues going into the season and, with the obvious exception of Max Scherzer, the group failed to even approach the lofty expectations set for them in the spring. Strasburg couldn’t remain healthy, Roark was terribly inconsistent, Gio couldn’t come anywhere near last year’s breakout performance, and they never really had a true fifth starter. Their depth at the position is also more questionable than it has been in some time, as a result of trades (like the one for Eaton that cost the team several good young arms), injuries (most notably Hellickson, who had been their best option for the back of the rotation), and prospect failures to perform (such as Austin Voth, who has steadily slipped down their prospect list despite their once high hopes for him). Pitching had long been their strength, but the current group is going to need some substantial additions this winter.
Tom Natali: Well, it certainly felt like 2015 all over again. This was a team that was “feeling themselves” going into this spring and it was too little, too late. Bullpen blunders, in-fighting between players and staff, injuries; you name it and it didn’t work out in Washington. However, if I had to put it on two things it would be the following: starting pitching and a managerial staff that could not connect with its players.
The Nationals starting pitching has been the backbone of their success, which had led them to be second in the MLB in wins since 2012. While Max Scherzer could be on his way to his third straight Cy Young, Stephen Strasburg struggled with health and was a shell of himself while he was on the mound. Tanner Roark is now coming off his second consecutive less than mediocre season. Gio Gonzalez had a hard time connecting with his catchers and reverted back to his pre-Mike Maddux inconsistency. Lastly, General Manager, Mike Rizzo chose his fifth starter to be fixed via band-aid. Whether it was Jeremy Hellickson, A.J. Cole, Erick Fedde – the list goes on. Quite simply, this staff was a liability.
Gio Gonzalez's last 13 starts: 7.07 ERA, 1.91 WHIP. Unless the Nationals rally today, his record in those games will be 1-8.
— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) August 19, 2018
Secondly, Nats fans are quick to dismiss Davey Martinez and quite frankly, they have a point. Averaging 95 wins under Dusty Baker, this front office chose to go with an analytics heavy style. I can confidently say that Davey was not ready to be given the keys to a 90+ win team. He’s young and inexperienced, which proved to be problematic for a veteran team like Washington,however it’s overkill to say he lost the locker room.
Furthermore, as much as we would like to crown Mike Rizzo for turning this team into a contender – this wasn’t his best work. With the abrupt trades of veteran relievers in Shawn Kelley and Brandon Kintzler, Rizzo appears to be doubling down on his manager because both of them questioned Martinez. Rizzo also failed on providing quality starting pitching depth (mentioned above). Lastly, the trade deadline was a disaster. No acquisitions were made at the deadline and then Ryan Madson, Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams all were dealt afterwards, thus limiting the amount of return they could have received. In other words, I think Rizzo would like a mulligan on this season.
Subir Nigam: The biggest disappointment of the season was that they could not make the playoffs even though they got career years out of certain players. Going into the season, if you told me that the Nats would have a ROY candidate, Rendon hitting .300, healthy Turner all year, another Cy Young year from Scherzer, and still have the Law Firm as relievers, I’d think we would finally get past the first round. Instead, a poor year from Harper, injuries, and no production from the Catcher spot are some reasons that derailed the season. I was disappointed in the coaching staff as well, particularly the pitching coach because starting pitching, besides Scherzer, was worse than last year. I feel like I can count on my fingers the amount of times he went and talked to pitcher for mound visit. Not enough.
Drew G: The biggest disappointment has to be the bullpen. The Nationals bullpen was sub-par most of the year. They were beset by injuries and blown saves. Doolittle was injured in July and Madson struggled with a back issue. General Manager Mike Rizzo traded Brandon Kintzler, Shawn Kelley was shipped out for his temper tantrum on the mound, and they traded for Kelvin Herrera. If the bullpen could have saved a handful of games, they may have pushed for a wild card spot.
Hunter Rooney: The biggest disappointment for the Nationals this year had to be the performance of the starting rotation outside of Max Scherzer. Scherzer was his dominant self as usual, but outisde of that, there was much to be desired. Stephen Strasburg battled injuries all year long and never really got going. Both Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark were incredibly inconsistent throughout the year, not being able to string together multiple good starts. Finally, none of the rotating cast of Erick Fedde, Jeremy Hellickson, and Jefry Rodriguez were really able to claim the final spot in the rotation. All three had some flashes, but that’s about it. The strength of the Nationals in past years has been their rotation, but this year that was not the case.
What was the biggest surprise of the season for the Nationals?
Amanda White: JUAN SOTO! What an amazing year for the Dominican rookie. His performance was mind blowing and earned him a place on myriad lists alongside some of baseball’s all-time greatest luminaries. The irony, of course, is that he would likely not have been in the big leagues at all this year if not for a gruesome injury to Victor Robles early in the season. He’ll likely be the National League Rookie of the Year and was the brightest spot of what turned out to be a thoroughly lackluster 2018 campaign.
Tom Natali: I have a two-part answer again. Let’s start with the good. The Nats look like they’ve struck gold with potential Rookie of the Year in Juan Soto. The 19-year-old was arguably the most dominant hitter for this team in which his ceiling looks to be at an elite level.
The bad is that I think the Atlanta Braves are here to stay. Their core players are young, ultra-talented and should be here to stay. Needless to say, it’s not just Freddie Freeman that scares me anymore.
Subir Nigam: Besides Juan Soto being an absolute phenom at age 19, the biggest surprise for Nats this season was the offense not performing well enough throughout the year. This year was crazy when you think about it because Nats would pour out some games where they scored 15+ runs, but the next five games they would score maybe five total runs. Going into the season I thought that our offense would be unstoppable, but it seems like Harper’s down year and slow starting players like Murphy hurt the offense. Don’t forget that Howie Kendrick went down the first series of the year as well.
Players 21 or younger with 4 H, 5 RBIs and a HR in a single game this decade:
Victor Robles – Today
Juan Soto – 6/29/2018
Mike Trout – 5/21/2013 pic.twitter.com/YnBs7gr62h
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) September 27, 2018
Drew G: The biggest surprise was the rookies Juan Soto and Victor Robles. At the start of the year I doubt anyone would have thought Soto and Robles would be playing with the Nats at the end of the season. Well, here we are at the conclusion of 2018 and that is exactly what we saw. Soto played in every game but one since the game he was called up, and Robles has shown flashes of being a regular contributor.
Hunter Rooney: The biggest surprise is how well prepared he team is in case they are not able to re-sign Bryce Harper. Going into the year, most people would have said that re-signing Harper was a must in order for the Nationals to stay competitive. But the emergence of the young outfielders has made it to where the Nats can survive the departure of Harper. Eaton has shown that he is a very capable bat at the top of the order and brings plus defense in one of the corner spots. Robles was the prospect with the most hype entering the year for Washington. However, an injury in the spring to Robles thought to be disastrous, allowed for the emergence of phenom Juan Soto. Now that Robles is healthy and showed a lot of promise in September, at the very least the Nationals will have Robles and Soto to carry the load for several years.