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The Blame for Washington's Collapse Lies Not With Papelbon But With Cincinnati

by Doug Poe

posted in Recreation and Sports

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The Washington Nationals made it clear that they found Jonathan Papelbon more culpable in the skirmish with All-Star outfielder Bryce Harper, given that the club has suspended the reliever for the rest of he season. Some fans, through Twitter and other social media, even go so far as to blame the team's second half collapse on Papelbon.
They were in first place when they acquired the reliever, who immediately replaced Drew Storen as the closer. While that decision at first did not sit well with Storen, that move should not serve as the scapegoat of their plunge from the top. To find an even bigger reason, one need only look at the last place team one division over from the East.
It seems quite appropriate that on the same weekend the Nationals had the fight in their dugout, the New York Mets were celebrating their division championship in none other but Cincinnati. After all, had it not been for the Reds, Washington would still be in contention during this final week of the season.
Washington played its worst baseball against the last place Reds, who swept the five games before Max Scherzer's near no-hitter in the make up game Monday. The Nationals in those five losses batted just .180 against Cincinnati, thirty points lower than against any other National League opponent.
They also hit fewer home runs against Cincinnati than any other league opponent, managing just two. Michael Taylor hit one off of rookie Rasiel Iglesias in Great American Ball Park on May 30, and Danny Espinosa hit one on July 7 against rookie Anthony Desclafani in Nationals Park.
The daunting pitching staff of the Nationals was nearly as futile against the lowly Reds as was its offense. Cincinnati batted.273 off of Washington pitchers, twenty points higher than the staff's overall opponent batting average. The team earned run average, which was overall a respectable 3.71, swelled to nearly five runs a game against Cincinnati.
The Mets, conversely, swept all seven games they played with Cincinnati, including the victory on September 25 that clinched the division championship the day after the kerfuffle between Papelbon and Harper. New York's dominance combined with Washington's futility against Cincinnati proved the difference of three games in the standings.
That deficit would have meant that the Nationals would still be in contention the last week of the season, especially if Washington could gave at least split their sixteen head to head match ups with the Mets. A split would have knocked another two games from New York's lead, reducing the current edge down to a mere couple of games.
For whatever reason, the Nationals struggled against the Reds, even when they were sitting atop of the N.L. East with their eyes on the World Series. All Washington can do now is watch the playoffs on TV and contemplate the direction the team should take heading into to the 2016 season. They should also take careful note of the dates of their two series with Cincinnati.
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