The Washington Nationals are frustrated. It’s understandable and it shows.
The Nats now find themselves 14.5 games back in the NL East, and with the Atlanta Braves looking like the best team in baseball at the moment, the lead seems beyond insurmountable.
As manager Davey Johnson billed it during spring training, this season was “World Series or bust” for the Nationals. And it is safe to say that it has been entirely the latter. Washington was predicted to win the NL East, with a large contingent of so-called “experts” picking them to do so handily. The Braves were to finish second, likely earning one of the two Wild Card spots and perhaps at times pushing the Nationals; but when all was said and done, they simply would not have what it took to overtake them in the division.
How wrong you were, experts. And how sweet it is for the Atlanta faithful.
The Nationals have sat at a rather distant second place for most of the season. The Braves have maintained a comfortable 4-6 game lead for the majority of the year, going into the All-Star break six up on Washington. Since, then the Braves are 15-4, the Nats just 6-12, and the boys from Atlanta have pushed their lead to an ever-growing 14.5 games.
So yes, it is completely understandable that the Nationals would be exasperated. And that exasperation boiled over in last night’s game. In the fifth inning, the Braves’ Julio Teheran hit the Nationals Bryce Harper with a pitch. Harper immediately turned to Teheran, clearly yelling expletives and expressing his general discontent.
Previously in the game, Harper had given the Nationals the lead when he hit a solo home run to center field off of Teheran. In typical Harper fashion, the young outfielder admired the ball’s trajectory as it found its way over the wall, taking his time getting down the line and breaking into his trot.
In his next at-bat, with the Braves now up 2-1, Teheran plunked Harper. Benches cleared, tempers flared, but ultimately no punches were thrown (though if it had come to blows, you can bet El Oso Blanco would have made quick work of several Nationals).
After the game, Freddi Gonzalez was quoted as saying that Teheran hitting Harper “definitely wasn’t on purpose.” This is likely an honest answer as the Braves were only up by one at the time. Davey Johnson countered by saying that his team would “file it for future reference.”
And of course Harper himself had something to say after the game. When asked if he was surprised he had been hit, he retorted: “Uh, I hit that ball pretty far off him. So no, not really.”
Here’s some advice for the trigger-happy young buck: if you don’t like being hit, don’t show up opposing pitchers. Shut your mouth, stop with the antics and just play the game.
But being 14.5 games down in the division can make the most stoic of men hot around the collar. It’s okay Harper, you can throw you’re little tantrums and try to show up a team that yours has no chance of catching – especially when you’re made to look as silly as you were in your final at-bat against Craig Kimbrel. The Nats star has a lot of growing up to do, but for the time being, the Braves will simply continue to pound Washington into submission. At this rate, the division lead could be 20-plus games by seasons end, and Harper’s hair may well catch fire.