Who stays, who goes and who has something to prove?

By Bill Ladson

This past season, many experts expected the Nationals to run away with the National League East title, and then win their first World Series title. But that didn’t happen. Not only didn’t they reach the postseason, the Nationals finished in second place. Here’s a look at the Nats’ 2015 Major League roster: Who stays, who goes and who has something to prove?

They’ll be back
OF Matt den Dekker: The Nationals need another lefty off the bench next to Clint Robinson. Once he returned from Triple-A Syracuse on Aug. 28, den Dekker was more consistent at the plate, hitting .320. It helped that he changed his swing. He now has a right leg kick that allows him to recognize a lot of pitches.

LHP Gio Gonzalez: He will be the first to say that he has to throw less pitches in the games he starts. Next year could be his final year with the Nationals. He has a lot to prove in 2016.

OF Bryce Harper: What more can you say about the man they call Bam-Bam? He slugged his way into the Nationals’ record books. He set season records in on-base percentage, OPS, home runs for a left-handed hitter and slugging percentage.

C Jose Lobaton: His season wasn’t as good as it was last year. At times — like Wilson Ramos — he would have problems catching throws from the outfield. However, pitchers still enjoyed throwing to him.

3B/2B Anthony Rendon: He was the club’s Most Valuable Player in 2014. This past season, he was arguably the most fragile player. He played in only 80 games because of a knee sprain and quad sprain. Rendon spent most of his time at second base. If the Nationals trade Yunel Escobar, Rendon will be back at third.

RHP Tanner Roark: Unlike Ross Detwiler, Roark was a team player after losing his job in the rotation because of the signing of Max Scherzer. If the team needed a long man – no problem, he was the guy. Setup man? No worries. If the Nationals needed an emergency starter, Roark came through. Roark deserves to be back in the rotation.

1B Clint Robinson: This 30-year old was clearly the team’s Rookie of the Year. He always came up with big hits and was a pretty good defensive first baseman.

RHP Stephen Strasburg: He was injury prone for most of the first half of the season. Once Strasburg came back from his oblique injury, it was like watching the rookie who blew away the Pirates during his Major League debut in 2010. It will be interesting to see if the Nationals sign him to a long-term deal. He is a free agent after the 2016 season.

RHP Max Scherzer: He proved that he was worth the seven-year, $210 million contract. Two no-hitters, four complete games, 14 victories and 276 strikeouts made him the ace of the rotation.

RF Jayson Werth: The unofficial captain of the Nationals, Werth had to go on the disabled list twice because of shoulder and wrist injuries. It will be interesting to see where he fits in the lineup. If the Nationals are unable to acquire a leadoff hitter, look for Werth to hit at the top of the lineup.

He’s ready, but …
OF Michael Taylor: No lie, one Major League scout compared Taylor’s defense to Willie Mays. Taylor is a good one out there and will win a Gold Glove soon. What about his bat? There are days he can look awful, especially when he is at the top of the order. Put him near the bottom of the order with runners on base, he has a high batting average.

LHP Felipe Rivero: By the end of the season, he was the only jewel in the bullpen. Former manager Matt Williams used him as a closer after the team suspended Jonathan Papelbon. Will Rivero be the closer next year? It’s anyone’s guess at this point.

RHP Joe Ross: Doug Fister lost his starting job because of Ross. He gave the Nationals quality innings, but he was shut down late in the season because his arm was tired.

SS Trea Turner: Turner looks like a 15-year-old kid, but he plays like a veteran. He is going to be one heck of a hitter and defender when it’s all said and done. Turner will be the starting shortstop in 2016.

Something to prove
RHP A.J. Cole: He wasn’t given much a chance to prove himself. When he did pitch, Cole was hit hard. Hard to tell what his future is with the team at this point. Entering this past season, Cole was the second-best prospect in the Nationals organization, according to MLB.com. Now, he ranks sixth.

LHP Matt Grace Another guy from the farm system, Grace couldn’t keep the ball down during his first stint with the team. When he came back late in year, he was much better. He will be given every chance to make the 2016 team out of Spring Training.

INF Wilmer Difo: He had a nice season in the Minor Leagues, but when he was promoted to the Major Leagues, Difo wasn’t given much of a chance until the second-to-last day of the season against the Mets. In that game, Difo broke his hand and most likely will miss the Arizona Fall League season.

RHP Taylor Jordan: Once a candidate for the rotation, Jordan had several stints with the team. His future seems to be as a reliever.

RHP Rafael Martin: He is hard to figure out. One day, Martin can get hitters out. Other days, he throws batting practice.

C Pedro Severino: He catching skills are as advertised. He even has speed on the bases and behind the dish. One cannot judge his offense on one at-bat. It would not be a surprise if he was given every chance to make the team out of Spring Training.

RHP Blake Treinen: People from the front office to the players have bragged about his 98-mph sinker. That sinker had trouble staying down, and left-handed hitters hit Treinen hard. It will interesting to see what he does to improve his pitching repertoire when Spring Training starts.

Sammy Solis: Read Martin.

Possible trade chips
RHP Drew Storen: He was arguably having his best season of his career until the Nationals traded for Jonathan Papelbon to become the closer. After Papelbon joined the team, Storen had a 6.75 ERA and broke his thumb after he allowed the game-winning homer to Yoenis Cespedes in September. A change of scenery may do Storen some good.

3B Yunel Escobar: He could be a man without a position for the Nationals. The team would like to have Rendon back at third base. While Escobar had a great year with the bat, he was below average with the glove.

2B Danny Espinosa: He had a productive season coming off the bench and still was a solid defender. It was a year where he played all four infield positions and left field. He could become Ben Zobrist of the National League if he wants it. But he’ll respond by saying he’s not a bench player.

OF/1B Tyler Moore: When he plays often, Moore can provide power. He is almost useless when he comes off the bench. He is up for arbitration for the first time.

Wilson Ramos: Give him credit, he has caught three no-hitters during his career and he stayed healthy throughout the season. Privately, some people in the organization worried about his game-calling skills and he had problems catching throws from the outfield. To make matters worse, he had his worst season as a hitter.

All but gone
SS Ian Desmond: The Nationals offered him a lucrative deal last year, but he turned it down and will become a free agent after the World Series. Desmond is coming off his worst season and it will be interesting to see who much he gets in the open market.

RHP Doug Fister: The Nationals gave him a short leash to get his act together on the mound. When he didn’t get the job done as a starter, he was put in the bullpen as a long man. Fister said he would like to become a starter again, but that will not happen with the Nationals.

RHP Casey Janssen: He was supposed to replace Tyler Clippard as the setup man, but he was hit hard during the second half of the season. Janssen has a $7 million option left in his contract, but that is not expected to be picked up.

Jonathan Papelbon He was supposed to make the bullpen even better, but he didn’t get many save opportunities and then was suspended the final four games of the seasons for having a run-in with Harper. General manager Mike Rizzo would be considered a genius if he can acquire anything good for him. Papelbon is past his prime.

LHP Matt Thornton: He is 39 years old and he still has fire in his stomach to play another year. He wasn’t bad with the Nationals, but it’s doubtful he will play another season with them.

2B Dan Uggla: For a guy who wanted to play every day, Uggla wasn’t bad as a reserve. Who can forget the big home run he hit against the Braves on April 28?

RHP Jordan Zimmermann: Both the Nationals and Zimmermann tried to get a deal done, without much success. He is clearly the best starting pitcher in Nationals history, but he will take his services elsewhere.

The injured
RHP Aaron Barrett: He got off to a slow start and then needed Tommy John surgery. He probably will not be a factor in 2017 because he’ll be recovering from the procedure.

RHP David Carpenter It looked like the Nationals have found their eighth-inning setup guy, but he hurt his shoulder before the All-Star break and never returned to action.

OF Reed Johnson He wasn’t given much of a chance to play because of a torn tendon in his foot and a broken rib. Reed plans to play another year and realizes that he may have to sign a Minor League deal in order to join a team.

OF Nate McLouth: He didn’t play an inning because of shoulder problems. He would later have a cleanup procedure in the shoulder. He will become a free agent and will not return to the Nationals.

CF Denard Span: The Nats had to use four people at the leadoff spot because Span missed a lot of time because of back tightness, abdominal and hip problems. Span is a free agent and most likely will not be back with the team.

RHP Craig Stammen: He was the MVPM which means Most Valuable Player Missing. Stammen missed most of the season because of a forearm injury. He can pitch the middle innings and be a valuable setup guy. While he was gone, the Nats had serious problems replacing him.

1B Ryan Zimmerman: He played less than 100 games for the second straight year because of foot and oblique problems. He plans to change his workout routine this offseason. When he’s healthy, he can carry a team for a while.

Nats’ Rizzo: ‘We’ll make decisions sooner rather than later’

By Bill Ladson

NEW YORK — Before the last game of the season against the Mets, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo talked to the local media, but didn’t say whether he was going to dismiss manager Matt Williams and some of his coaching staff.

Rizzo said the process will begin once the team flies out of New York on Sunday evening. The meetings will start as early as Monday.

“We’ll make decisions sooner rather than later about personnel on the field, off the field and in the front office,” Rizzo said. “We are not going to let people twist in the wind. We want to make out decisions and move on.”

Entering Spring Training, the Nationals were expected to be World Series contenders, especially after they signed right-hander Max Scherzer to a seven-year $210 million contract. But the Nationals will finish in second place behind the Mets and not reach the postseason. It didn’t help the team was hit by injuries and didn’t have a productive bullpen.

“We are going to investigate all those things after the season when we do our postseason analytics on what went wrong,” Rizzo said. “Suffice to say, no one is more disappointed than I am about the way the season transpired.

“But I see a lot of positives that come out of the season. We’re playing extremely hard at the end of season, even with very little on the line. I credit that to a bunch of professional players and a coaching staff that really cares. We’ve seen a lot of good things happen with our young players, who have emerged. We are going to bring some positives out of it. We are not happy about what happened [this season] and we are disappointed in it.”

Two players who most likely will not be back with the Nationals are right-hander Jordan Zimmermann and shortstop Ian Desmond. Both are free agents after the season and not close to re-signing with Washington. Rizzo called them two of his favorite players.

“They mean the world to me,” Rizzo said. “Personally, I was one of the instrumental guys when we drafted Jordan Zimmermann. We signed him, developed him. We had the controversial shutdown to extend his career and he pitched admirably and unbelievably for us. He is close to my heart.

“Ian Desmond is the rock of the organization. When I became the GM, he became the everyday shortstop and blossomed into one of the best players in all of baseball. They are in the last year of their decision making years. It will be difficult both personally and professionally. But that’s baseball. On both sides, we have made attempts to put these guys under contract for extended period of time. It hasn’t worked out to this point. I never shut any doors about any players. If this is the last game both of them play for us, I will remember them fondly as two of my most favorite players I’ve ever been around.”

Nobody has talked to Nats’ Williams about job status

By Bill Ladson

NEW YORK — Despite the reports that he is going to be dismissed as manager of the Nationals, Matt Williams said nobody in the front office talked to him about his status with the club. He is said he is focusing on the final three games of the season against the Mets.

“Nobody has spoken to me at this point and, frankly, it’s not a concern of mine right now. We have a guy [Bryce Harper] who is a potential MVP on our team and we have three games to play. That’s what I’m concentrating on. That’s what I know right now. As of today I have a job to do a couple of time and we’ll go from there.”

It was a bad month of September for Williams. The Mets swept a crucial three-game series from the Nationals at Nationals Park during the second week of September. By Sept. 26, the Nationals were eliminated from postseason contention as the Mets won the National League East title.

A day later, teammates Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon were involved in a dugout confrontation. It was a fight that Williams claimed he didn’t see until he saw a video of it later that night. Papelbon ended up getting suspended four games because of the fracas.

Then reports surfaced in the Washington Post that Williams lost the club, doesn’t communicate well with his players and players questioning how Williams handled the bullpen, which turned out to be its weakest link.

Asked why he didn’t defend himself after the reports came, Williams said, “I personally feel that it’s my job to be a calming force as opposed to a disruptive one. We have a lot of talented players on this team that I support whole heartedly every single day. I will not stop doing that – ever. Believe me when I tell you this.

“So with that being said, I’m not going to subject this team to any more distractions. There no need for further distractions at this point. What’s important is that we finish this season strong, Beyond that, it noise.”

Williams said he talks to Nationals management every single day, but wouldn’t tell the local media what has been said between the two parties.

Williams declines to responds to criticism

By Bill Ladson

ATLANTA — Over the last few days, Nationals manager Matt Williams has been criticized by the press for things like the way he communicates with his players and the way he handles the bullpen.

Asked to respond to the criticism that has been written about him recently, Williams said, “If we are going to talk about, it’s going take longer than a conference like this. I think you have to have all the facts and I mean all of them. That being said, I’ll hold my comments now because all of the facts are not out there. It doesn’t feel good. … It is what it is, and we will move on from today. I would say we have a few games to play. We need to play well. That’s what I’m concentrating on now, and we’ll deal with it at the appropriate time.”

Nationals announce organizational award winners

by Jacob Emert | MLB.com

WASHINGTON – Before Saturday’s game with the Phillies, the Nationals named first baseman Jose Marmolejos their Minor League Player of the Year and right-handed pitcher Austin Voth their Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Austen Williams received the third-annual Bob Boone Award.

Here is the link to the full release, full with the players’ stats and previous winners: http://curlyw.mlblogs.com/2015/09/26/nationals-announce-2015-organizational-awards/

September 27: Phillies @ Nationals

Teams: Washington Nationals (78-74, -7.5 in NL East), Philadelphia Phillies (58-96, eliminated)

Streaks: Nationals: W1, Phillies L1

First pitch: 4:05 p.m. ET

Watch & Listen: MASN2 /106.7 The FAN

WSH Lineup: Taylor 8, Rendon 4, Harper 9, Escobar 5, Robinson 3, Desmond 6, den Dekker 7, Lobaton 2, Gonzalez 1

PHI Lineup: Galvis 6, Blanco 4, Altherr CF, Ruf LF, Francoeur 9, Kratz 3, Asche 5, Rupp 2, Harang 1

Transactions: None.

Jacob Emert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JacobEmert.

Taylor misplay leads to first inside-the-park grand slam in 21st century

by Jacob Emert

WASHINGTON – The sinking line drive kept on sinking, but center fielder Michael Taylor had already committed. Taylor laid out for the catch, but the ball skipped by and Aaron Altherr sprinted around the bases for the first inside-the-park grand slam in the MLB since 1999.

“I felt like I had a good beat on the ball,” Taylor said after the 8-2 loss to Philadelphia. “I thought I had a chance on it. I know in that situation you better catch the ball, and I wouldn’t have gone for it if I didn’t think I could.”

For Taylor, who has dazzled with his range for much of his rookie season, the alternative, and probably the smarter play, was to play the line drive off a hop and limit the damage to one run.

“Yeah, but he thinks he’s got a chance to catch it,” manager Matt Williams said. “Once he goes for it then there’s no turning back at that point.”

The grand slam was the first of two home runs Altherr hit on Friday. Starter Jordan Zimmermann allowed three home runs total in what was probably his last start as a National in Washington.

“That was a big play for us, and I felt like I let down the team and I let down Jordan,” Taylor said.

September 25: Phillies @ Nationals

Teams: Washington Nationals (78-73, -6.5 in NL East), Philadelphia Phillies (57-96, eliminated)

Streaks: Nationals: L3, Orioles L2

First pitch: 7:05 p.m. ET

Watch & Listen: MASN2 /106.7 The FAN

WSH Lineup: Rendon 2B, Escobar 3B, Harper RF, Werth LF, Robinson 1B, Desmond SS, Taylor CF, Ramos C, Zimmermann P.

PHI Lineup: Galvis SS, Altherr LF, Herrera CF, Ruf 1B, Asche 3B, Blanco 2B, Bogusevic RF, Rupp C, Eickhoff P

Transactions: None.

Jacob Emert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JacobEmert.

September 24: Orioles at Nationals

Teams: Washington Nationals (78-73, -6.5 in NL East), Baltimore Orioles (75-76, -10.5 in AL East)

Streaks: Nationals: L2, Orioles W2

First pitch: 4:35 p.m.

Watch & Listen: MASN, MASN 2 / 105.7 The Fan, 106.7 The FAN

WSH Lineup: Rendon 2B, Escobar 3B, Harper RF, Werth LF, Robinson 1B, Desmond SS, Taylor CF, Ramos C, Roark P.

BAL Lineup: Parra CF, Machado 3B, Davis 1B, Pearce LF, Weiters C, Schoop 2B, Flaherty RF, Hardy SS, Wilson P

Transactions: None.

Jacob Emert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JacobEmert.

September 23: Orioles at Nationals

Teams: Washington Nationals (78-72, -6.5 in NL East), Baltimore Orioles (74-76, -11.5 in AL East)

Streaks: Nationals: L1, Orioles W1

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.

Watch & Listen: MASN, MASN 2 / 105.7 The Fan, 106.7 The FAN

WSH Lineup: Rendon 2B, Escobar 3B, Harper RF, Werth LF, Robinson 1B, Desmond SS, Taylor CF, Ramos C, Scherzer P

BAL Lineup: Parra CF, Machado 3B, Davis 1B, Pearce LF, Wieters C, Schoop 2B, Flaherty RF, Hardy SS, Tillman P

Transactions: None.

Jacob Emert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JacobEmert.


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