WASHINGTON — There are some elephants in the room. Perhaps better put, in the dugout of the Washington Nationals.
The team has been squandering games they should have won. They waste good starting pitching with an ineffective and inconsistent offense and a leaky bullpen. So, let’s take a look at those elephants:
1. Michael A. Taylor. Yes, he shows flashes of brilliance, but that’s just what they are — flashes. Too often he is more like he was in Wednesday’s game, where he struck out five times, often swinging at the first pitch and sometimes striking out on three pitches. I won’t even go after him for the egregious, game-costing error he made in the ninth — that happens. But his baserunning is sloppy, bordering on foolish, and his hitting is just not major league leadoff quality. He needs to go to the minors to work things out and I cannot figure out why the Nats haven’t made that move.
2. Ryan Zimmerman is killing them. Seriously, the “face of the franchise” stinks at the plate. I wouldn’t be surprised if he leads all of baseball in men left on base. Instead of being “Mr. Clutch,” he is Mr. LOB. He does now, and always has, hit into a lot of double plays. Now he’s added being a strikeout machine (on pace to break his career high of 133) to his resume. I know he’s a good guy and the Nats owe him a lot of money, but is this season about a big group hug or winning?
The Nats need to get a big bat to add to their lineup and they need to do it now. It ideally would be a center fielder (they passed on Dexter Fowler when he was begging for a job … how’s that working out?) but they always could move Harper to center and let the big stick play right and maybe first base. I’m talking about somebody several dozen ticks above the ineffective Clint Robinson.
3. The bullpen needs help. The set up guys are gassed from overwork and the Nats do not have a closer. That they kept Jonathan Papelbon when pitchers like Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman were changing uniforms is unfortunate, but in the past. This is about the future. Seems the Yankees might be willing to part with Andrew Miller. He’d be costly, but so is blowing games in the ninth.
Which brings us back to Papelbon. When and if he is healthy, it’s time to have this talk: “Jon, I know your contract says you will be the closer, but we have to make a change. You can stay with us as a set up man in the bullpen or we can cut you. You decide.”
My hope is he’d ask to leave. The reality is the Nats have not had a dependable closer since their first season when “The Chief,” Chad Cordero, recorded 47 saves.
The Nationals have a small window to win a championship. Wilson Ramos is a free agent after this year, Jayson Werth will be gone after next and Bryce Harper will most likely take his talents elsewhere following 2018. The current team might be able to win the division as it is constituted, but will be in no position to get past the first round of the playoffs against the likes of the Giants or Cubs.
Hey, Mike Rizzo and the Lerners — time to start addressing those elephants in the dugout before it’s too late.