As losses mount during dismal season, Nats focus on future

Three years ago, the Washington Capitals celebrated winning the Stanley Cup in grand style, complete with parades, fountains and countless other locations and actions not suitable for print.

Two years ago, the Washington Nationals celebrated winning the World Series in a slightly more subdued style, much to the chagrin of local party planners and bottle shops.
Since those franchise altering victories though, both franchises have struggled to find similar success. The Caps have qualified for the postseason each of the last three seasons, only to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. The Nats finished fourth in their division last year and have once again toiled in mediocrity again this season.

But while the local professional hockey team decided to double down on its aging core of veterans in hopes of winning one more championship before Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom head off into the sunset, the Nationals opted to handle things differently.

Just two years after winning the franchise’s first-ever World Series, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo made the difficult decision to blow it all up — trading away core players and franchise pillars in a series of moves that — for better or for worse — will have long-lasting ramifications.

Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Daniel Hudson, Kyle Schwarber, Yan Gomes, Josh Harrison, Brad Hand and Jon Lester were all shown the door. 

In their place, a dozen prospects, to include 23-year-old right-handed pitcher Josiah Gray, 23-year-old catcher Keibert Ruiz and 25-year-old outfielder Lane Thomas, were acquired in hopes of expediting the rebuilding of D.C. baseball team.

The current season was lost long before Rizzo pulled the trigger on these deals. At least now, the remaining games on the schedule carry more meaning as management evaluates which of these young players might eventually guide the Nationals back to glory.


Unheralded players pave way to preseason victory over Cincinnati

When the Washington Football Team hosted the Cincinnati Bengals for a preseason game, it marked the return of the local fanbase back into FedEx Field. After the pandemic forced the majority of last season’s contests to be played behind closed doors in empty stadiums, the gameday atmosphere was much more festive with burgundy and gold clad supporters involved — even if it was ultimately a meaningless exhibition.

And what those fans witnessed, especially when it came to the four drives involving Washington’s first-team offense, was a mixed bag. Quarterback/future beard model Ryan Fitzpatrick completed seven of 13 attempts for 96 yards, but failed to lead the team into the endzone for a second-consecutive outing. Running back Antonio Gibson, receiver Terry McLaurin and tight end Logan Thomas all relatively quiet showings as well.

Once the starters were done for the night, rookie running back Jaret Patterson, the undrafted undersized roster hopeful, shined brightest as he carried the ball 16 times for 71 yards and a touchdown. He might have been a long shot when he was initially invited to rookie camp, but Patterson is most definitely viewed through a different lens these days. No one would be surprised if he actually made the 53-man roster at this point.

While his numbers might not have been overly flashy, second-year wideout Antonio Gandy-Golden also had a strong showing — with three receptions for 38 yards and a highlight-worthy back-shoulder catch on a two-point conversion. Considering just how little Gandy-Golden did during his rookie season, the player and his coaches must be pleased to see him contribute.

Ultimately, that’s what these contests are all about — staying healthy and getting an in-depth look at the players vying for a spot in the bottom half of the roster. Sending fans home with a 17-13 win is truly just an added bonus.


The day the season died

Historically speaking, All Star weekend serves as a fitting moment for baseball clubs to pause, assess the situation and choose the best course of action for the remainder of the season. While Juan Soto turned heads during a strong showing in the home run derby and Max Scherzer once again took the mound as the National League’s starting pitcher, this season has not been particularly kind to the Washington Nationals.

Injuries and inconsistencies up and down the roster have resulted in a disjointed and disappointing campaign thus far, putting general manager Mike Rizzo in the unenviable position of having to prepare for multiple scenarios during the second half of the season as his ball club sits in fourth place with a 42-47 record. 

If the Nationals were to wake up and realize that they’ve wasted the first 89 games of the season, then Rizzo could strategically add a player or two before the MLB trade deadline in hopes of a late-season division title run. Or, in the event that the final sprint to the finish line is more of the same, the conversation could turn much darker with the Nats becoming sellers as they give up today in hopes of a better tomorrow.

Exactly one game into the second half of the season, a 24-8 thumping at the hands of the San Diego Padres, the Nationals made let Rizzo off the hook. There are no more difficult decisions to make. Soto aside, this team doesn’t have the offense, defense or pitching to compete in a watered down NL East.

After allowing San Diego (which doesn’t even have a football team anymore) to score three touchdowns and a field goal, Washington has officially concluded the competitive portion of the 2021 season. Sure, an optimist might say, “It’s only one game.” But that optimist would be wrong. It’s been 90 games. And none of them have shown anything other than the fact that these Nationals, as currently constructed, simply aren’t good enough.

So enjoy these players while you can. Chances are, a few of them won’t be around much longer.


As England falters, D.C. United rises to the occasion

While millions worldwide turned their attention to the European Championship as England battled Italy in the finals, our nation’s capital hosted an international soccer tournament of its own — with D.C. United taking on Costa Rica’s Alajuelense in the 2021 Capital Cup finals.

When the inaugural tournament was originally announced last month, it was intended to be a four-team event. Unfortunately, due to health and safety protocols, both Alianza FC (El Salvador) and Club Puebla (Mexico) were unable to participate, so the “tournament” became a two-game tie between the remaining parties.

After D.C. United scored a 1-0 victory over Alajuelense via midfielder Felipe Martins’ free kick in the 87th minute Wednesday, the black and red entered Sunday’s finale with the narrowest of leads.

While both teams had several chances throughout an entertaining matchup, it was forward Jovanny Bolivar’s 68th-minute tally that ensured D.C. United won the 2021 Capital Cup over Costa Rica’s Alajuelense (2-0 on aggregate).

Forward Kairou Amoustapha appeared to score for the home team three minutes later on a link-up play with Bolivar, but the would-be goal scorer was deemed to be offside on the play. 

Although Gareth Southgate and the Three Lions were unable to “bring it home” in the Euro 2020 finals, Bolivar’s goal and several key saves by goalie Jon Kempin ensured D.C. United avoided a similar fate and actually earned some hardware during one of the most soccer-crazed weekends of 2021.


As Gonzalo Higuain goes up in flames, D.C. United smokes Inter Miami

It’s probably a good thing Inter Miami owner David Beckham is currently focused on the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship because his club is a bit of a disaster on and off the pitch these days.

After making a name for himself playing for some of the heavy hitters in world soccer — including Real Madrid, Napoli and Juventus — Inter Miami striker Gonzalo Higuain made a business decision to take his talents to South Beach last year.

“I thought I would come here and play with a cigarette in my mouth and, instead, it is difficult,” Higuain said of Major League Soccer last week.

“It is a tough league,” he added.

In related news, Inter Miami coach Phil Neville opted to leave his team’s highest-paid player home until Higuain improves his fitness. Considering the 33-year-old is the third highest paid player in MLS at $5.79 million, showing up in shape and ready to contribute shouldn’t even be a topic of conversation.

Thanks to Higuain’s bloated paycheck, Inter Miami tops the league in salary spending this season (at $17.8 million), while D.C. United ranks 20th ($10.3 million). And yet, for the second time in three weeks, the black and red easily dispatched Inter Miami — this time 1-0.

Striker Ola Kamara converted a penalty kick in the 72nd minute for D.C., while Miami was forced to finish the match with just nine players after midfielder Gregore picked up a second yellow card and defender Ryan Shawcross earned a straight red card for his overzealous goonery in the second half.

With the win, D.C. United improved to 4-5-0 on the season, while Inter Miami dropped to 2-5-2 after being shut out for the fifth time in seven matches.


Fighting till the battle’s won, the Nationals go rolling along

As the U.S. Army celebrated its 246th birthday, the Washington Nationals found themselves in a battle with the rest of the NFC East. Injuries and inconsistencies have marred the team’s 2021 campaign, leaving them seven games behind the division-leading New York Mets.

Late-inning heroics by newly-promoted leadoff hitter Kyle Schwarber, who launched his team-leading 13th home run into the right field stands in the bottom of the seventh, paved the way to a 3-2 victory over the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates in the series opener.

While starter Jon Lester has yet to earn his first win as a member of the Nationals, the 37-year-old soldiered through a respectable outing — allowing two runs over 5 1/3 innings pitched — as Washington won for the third time in four games.

Reliever Kyle Finnegan picked up the win and closer Brad Hand earned his 12th save of the season, thanks in large part to Schwarber’s fourth homer in three games.


Ryan Zimmerman, Josh Harrison pace Nats bats to continue O’s woes

First baseman/face of the franchise Ryan Zimmerman has long been one of the most beloved players in Washington Nationals’ history. His three-run homer in the fourth inning helped Washington battle back from an early five-run deficit to defeat the Baltimore Orioles 12-9. 

As if that wasn’t enough, after scoring the 948th run of his storied career two innings later, Zimmerman surpassed Hall of Famer Tim Raines for the franchise lead. All of which was a welcome distraction from the fact that starting pitcher Jon Lester was rocked early and often – giving up a grand slam in the first inning before most fans had even taken their seats. 

The Nats offense, which has been inconsistent at times this season, responded with 15 hits and 12 runs, thanks largely to Zimmerman and Josh Harrison’s first grand slam. Daniel Hudson picked up the win and Brad Hand earned the save as Washington improved to 19-23 on the year. 

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