The Washington Nationals were the best team in baseball after 162 games of the regular season. They carried over their phenomenal and somewhat surprising regular season into the playoffs where they took Game 1 of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals.
After dropping the next two, all seemed lost for the Nats until Jayson Werth single-handedly demanded a decisive Game 5. The Nationals 6-0 lead in the deciding game was not enough however when the Cardinals came roaring back to steal the game and advance to the NLCS.
Despite a fantastic comeback from the Cardinals, the Nationals have plenty of people to blame for their failure to advance to the next round. The Nats were one strike away, twice, from advancing to the NLCS.
Instead of preparing Nationals Park for an NLCS Game 1, the Nationals will find themselves cleaning out their lockers over the weekend.
Drew Storen appeared in four of the five games against the Cards and was stellar in three of them. Entering Game 5, Storen had not allowed a hit in three innings and had struck out four.
Storen was called on to pitch for the third consecutive day, with the season in the balance, and Storen was unable to get the job done. Four runs and two walks later, the Nationals were on the wrong end of a 9-7 deficit.
It is hard to blame Storen after he had done the job so well through the previous games but he was the guy the Nats trusted turning the game over to. He earned his way back into the closer role when he returned from the DL during the season, moving Tyler Clippard back to the setup role.
The Nats were hoping for Storen to shut out the Cards, instead the Cards beat up Storen to earn a spot in the LCS. Was Storen unfairly called upon though to pitch three days straight? Manager Davey Johnson had that decision in his hands on Friday night.
Davey Johnson made a few questionable calls in Game 5, mostly involving sticking with pitchers who were not effective.
His decision to use Edwin Jackson was certainly a bit of a head-scratcher.
He had the opportunity to use relievers, such as Ryan Mattheus, who had proved their worth all season, yet instead elected to go to Jackson. Perhaps Johnson was comfortable with the lead and felt as though he needed a pitcher to simply eat up some innings rather than shut down a team that is more than capable of staging a comeback.
Jackson was not the answer in the seventh inning however. He was working on one day of rest and was making only his fourth relief appearance in the last six seasons. Jackson allowed one run, a run that would be crucial to the outcome of the game and the season.
The Nationals were on the precipice of something that could have resonated for years to come and a managerial decision here or there in Game 5 might have allowed for a celebration in D.C. for the home team.
The Nationals needed an ace to step up and fill the shoes of Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez was not able to do so. Gonzalez allowed five earned runs and 11 walks in just 10 innings pitched between Games 1 and 5.
His performances were wild and his demeanor seemed shaken on the mound. Gonzalez never had a firm grasp on the task that he was being asked to perform and the result was a subpar performance in the clutch.
Bryce Harper tried to put his awful start to his postseason in the rear-view mirror on Friday night. He started the game with an RBI triple followed by a monstrous home run. Unfortunately for Harper and the Nats, his production began and ended in those two at-bats.
Harper tried to make up for his abysmal Games 1-4 but fell short in the end. It was not Harper who allowed the four runs in the ninth inning of Game 5, but it was Harper who went 1-for-18 with six strikeouts in the four games prior to the deciding Game 5.
He finished with eight strikeouts in five games.
Might Harper have had a huge LCS if they held on? Perhaps, but his lack of production in the first four games of the NLDS might have cost him the opportunity to show it.
Deserving or not, General Manager Mike Rizzo will have to face the wrath of critics once again now that the Nationals were eliminated from the playoffs. Just when it seemed as though the Stephen Strasburg debate was over.
At any time Strasburg could have made his opinion more known, instead he accepted it. When it comes down to it, Strasburg's arm is a gold mine and his agent, Scott Boras, knows that as well as anyone.
Combine an agent who wants his client to remain healthy for as many years as possible with a GM who is set in his ways and a player who did not do anything about it, and the end result is a season that falls just short of something special.
The strength that was the Nats starting pitchers, even without Strasburg, turned out to be desperately in need of a true ace. Ross Detwiler proved to be their best starter, pitching six innings in Game 4 while allowing one unearned run.
Aside from Detwiler, the Nationals' starting staff allowed 14 earned runs and walked 12 batters in 18 innings pitched.
The weakness for this team turned out to be their rotation, a rotation that could have benefited from the addition of Strasburg in Games 1 and 5. Although Gonzalez survived his Game 1 performance, it did not set the table for the rest of the Nats' pitchers for the upcoming games.
Unfortunately, the rotation without Strasburg was lacking confidence and leadership and could not get out of the first round.
Rizzo allowed his team to enter the playoffs without one of the most feared pitchers in MLB. He allowed the Nats to roll the dice and simply hoped for the best.