From slumping to pointing fingers, the Washington Nationals are not enjoying the type of season most expected.
The narrative went from bad to worse in the aftermath of a 4-2 loss at the hands of the San Francisco Giants when closer Rafael Soriano, fresh off a blown save, pinned the blame on outfielder Bryce Harper, according to USA Today, for not reeling in a Gregor Blanco liner in the bottom of the ninth.
While the replays clearly show that Harper pulled up short as he came within 20 feet of the right field wall, there's legitimate precedent for having the yips just a week after smashing into the Dodger Stadium outfield fence and suffering concussion-like symptoms.
In fact, Harper acknowledged the fact that it was a catchable ball, vowed to get the nerves out of his system and basically took full responsibility for the loss.
That's admirable, but Washington is now sitting at .500 for reasons well beyond a misplay in the outfield Tuesday night. With injuries to key offensive players, a pitching staff performing below its 2012 standards and the inability to dominate anyone except the Miami Marlins, this Nationals group is lucky to be in second place in the NL East standings.
Bryce Harper said to put the loss on him. Felt he should've caught Blanco's triple and admitted collision w wall entered his mind.— Amanda Comak (@acomak) May 22, 2013
Soriano, brought in during the winter to solidify the back end of the bullpen, should be aware that blaming the loss on Harper and defensive alignments in the outfield—not to mention his insinuation that his four-year-old son could have made the play—won't change the outcome of Tuesday's game.
It also shouldn't take Soriano off the hook for allowing a lead-off single, failing to put Blanco away after getting ahead in the count 0-2, or hanging the slider that Blanco crushed. In fact, if the batter was anyone but the 29-year-old Blanco, owner of a paltry .336 career slugging percentage, the ball would have likely been in McCovey Cove.
On the list of problems for Nationals manager Davey Johnson, finding a solution for Harper's hesitation around the outfield walls should rank much lower than Soriano's mediocre start to the 2013 season.
The $7 million closer has now given up earned runs in back-to-back outings, while failing to strike out a batter in either appearance. Soriano arrived in Washington with a career strikeout rate of 9.4 per nine innings. In 2013, that number has plummeted to 6.8.
Of course, anyone who has followed the career of Soriano, specifically when it pertains to postgame interactions with the media, shouldn't be surprised by his most recent comments.
During his time in New York, Soriano sometimes fled the clubhouse without speaking to the media after a blown save or poor performance. In defeat, accountability isn't his strongest attribute.
For Nationals fans, take solace in the fact that Harper is back in the lineup to give a suddenly anemic offense a desperate jolt, and the fact that Stephen Strasburg's changeup was filthy against an improved Giants offense.
On some teams, with a different manager or mercurial young star, this scene could become a tipping point for infighting over the course of a long season. But that's unlikely to happen with this Nationals team, led by Davey Johnson and the accountable Bryce Harper.
Was Soriano justified in calling out Harper's defense?
We'll never know what the 20-year-old truly thought of Soriano's blame game, but at least he had the awareness to not engage in a war of words in the aftermath of a difficult defeat.
As the season goes on, expect another eyebrow-raising moment or two from Soriano in the aftermath of a blown save, but count on Harper to provide enough value to ensure more wins than losses for this group.
For now, it will be interesting to see how Washington fans react to the news.
Essentially, Soriano was correct. The play could have been made by proper defensive alignment—assuming you believe in "no doubles" defense—along with a better play by Harper.
The counterargument is Soriano's hanging pitch, after already allowing a hit, and his lack of accountability in blaming a teammate.
Davey Johnson isn't likely to let this become a Soriano vs. Harper battle, but it feels like that around the water cooler today for Nationals fans.