Washington Nationals: The NLDS Curse and Uncertain Future

The Washington Nationals are at a crossroads. After winning 97 games in the 2017 MLB season, 20 games above the second place Miami Marlins, the Nats claimed the National League East for the fourth time. However, Washington would fall to the Chicago Cubs in game five of the NLDS, marking yet another early exit from the playoffs.

Before we get to present day, let’s take a walk down memory lane. The Nats burst on the scene in 2012, winning 98 games under Davey Johnson for the top spot in the NL. However, they would lose in the NLDS in five games against the St. Louis Cardinals.

2013 would see the team take a step back. The club went on to win 86 games, good for second in the East. However, it was not good enough for a playoff spot. Following the season, manager Davey Johnson retired, opening up a spot in the dugout. The Washington Nationals would opt to hire Matt Williams, who had never managed a game in the bigs prior to his gig with the Nats.

2014 would be a great year for Williams and the team. The club won 96 ballgames, once again good enough for the best record in the National League. Williams came away with the Manager of the Year Award in the League. But, it was not all good news, as the team would once again exit the playoffs in the first round, following a four-game series loss to the San Francisco Giants.

Then things got a little dicey in 2015. Not only did the team fall back to 83 wins, which was not good enough for a playoff spot, but there was tension in the dugout. Williams did not see eye-to-eye with multiple people within the organization, resulting in his dismissal from the team only a year after taking home the Manager of the Year award.

That’s where Dusty Baker would enter the mix. Baker, a man with a long managerial history, unlike Williams, was hired in hopes he could take the Nats to the next level. One thing the Nats’ front office may have overlooked, however, is the fact that Baker does not exactly have the best resume in the postseason.

So in two years as the Nats’ lead man, the team got much of the same. In 2016 and 2017, the team won 95 and 97 games respectively, good for second in the National League both years. Both years the Washington Nationals would go to game 5 of the NLDS. And both years, the team would fall short of advancing to the NLCS. As a result, the club announced that Baker would not be returning to manage in 2018.

And that brings us to present day. A team that won 97 games is now one of two MLB teams in search of a new manager. And while you might think the Nats job is more appealing than that of the Philadelphia Phillies, that might not necessarily be the case.

While the majority of the 97 win club will likely return next season, it is what comes after that makes the future for the Nats in the air. The team’s superstar, Bryce Harper, will enter free agency after 2018. Rumors are already swirling that he could be headed to the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs or any number of big market teams.

In addition, Daniel Murphy, the club’s big free agent addition a few years back, will also hit the open market after the season. Starter Gio Gonzalez, who is coming off a season with a sub-3 ERA, also enters a contract year.

Those three players aren’t the only ones either, as general manager Mike Rizzo is also in his last year of his current contract. So to say the future of the Washington Nationals is up in the air is certainly a fair statement. This begs the questions – if you’re a managerial candidate, do you really want to enter the fold now?

Sure you should enter this season as the NL East favorites. However, if Harper and Murphy leave, that is some serious firepower lost. And if Rizzo leaves, you get a new boss, who may not hesitate to replace you after one bad season.

While I am not a huge fan of Dusty Baker, it would have made the most sense to bring him back for one more season in my eyes. He has the experience. He knows this team. And if people start to leave after 2018, he could have simply joined the mix. As a result, the team could have started fresh in 2019.

Now, they need to bring in a new face this year. Early candidates are Cubs’ bench coach Dave Martinez and New York Mets hitting coach Kevin Long. Neither man has managerial experience.

Bringing in an inexperienced manager to a team that is facing possible turnover after the season is certainly a gamble. This situation calls for a manager who has weathered a few storms and knows how to lead his team to some playoff wins.

One name that comes to mind is Ron Washington. While I was not his biggest fan while he was in Texas with the Rangers, there is no denying he fits the criteria outlined above. He had several winning seasons in Texas. And of course, he went to back to back World Series in 2010 and 2011. Washington is the third base coach for the Atlanta Braves.

So Washington Nationals fans, what do you think? Should the team have held on to Dusty for one more year? Are they best bringing in a manager with no experience in the role? Or do they need someone with a track record? Tell us what you think in the comments!

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