I think the Washington Nationals are frustrated. I think it shows, and I think some of the ugly incidents between the Atlanta Braves and the Nats have been, primarily, due to the frustration of having a “World Series or bust” mentality pre-season, and not seeing those dreams materialize. Of course when a division rival like the Braves are on a tear like they’ve been pretty much all year, well the frustrations multiply.
Sitting in the stands last night in the rain-soaked 2nd game of the current series, after a delay of about an hour and a half, those frustrations were quite evident as Stephen Strasburg did something strange. I turned to my friend Glen Morrow, and commented that “In all my years watching baseball, I’ve never seen anything like that!”
Home plate umpire Marvin Hudson issued warnings to both benches after Stephen Strasburg plunked Justin Upton in in the very first inning. This was after Jason Heyward had previously hit a homer off Strasburg. I’ll always contend that you can surmise and conject and guess all you wish, but unless a pitcher admits to plunking, we’ll never know for sure their intention. I’ll admit though, it did appear to be intentional. Strasburg is no stranger to pitching badly when he is frustrated, and I think Heyward’s early homer got up under Strasburg’s thin skin. Result? Upton takes a beaner!
Angst has been building between these two teams for a couple of years now, and the two teams have grown into a full-fledged division rivalry. I don’t really get that, because as well as the Nats did last year, and despite pre-season claims of a “World Series or bust”, the truth is that the Nats have never really been a team to write home about. Outside of their success in 2012, the Nats have never been a winning ball team since their team became headquartered in Washington in 2005.
I think a good many analysts are baffled, having picked them to be the team to beat in 2013 and them seeing them struggle as they have. It’s almost comical. I was not one of those analysts who saw it that way, and I contend that despite having good players like Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper, and pitchers like Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg, the buzz surrounding this team pre-season was mostly just hype. Broadcasters, reporters, and the media in general latch on to the popularity of a player like Harper, and we often find the buzz dies out faster than a B-1 bomber on a suicide run. The same kind of buzz currently surrounds the LA Dodgers and Yasiel Puig, and while they are truly a good team, does this mean they’ll win the series and then go on next year to dominate the National League as well? Maybe. Maybe not.
We’ll all witness the 3rd game, the rubber game of the series this afternoon, provided the torrential downpours in Atlanta of late don’t stifle those plans. What are we going to see? More frustration? More plunking or brash bravado? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised to any or all of the above. All this angst probably started on August 6, when Bryce Harper homered and then was plunked by Julio Teheran during Harper’s next at-bat. Benches cleared, and while the fray didn’t escalate out of control, the angst had officially begun.
Tensions increased when in game 1 of the current series, Alex Wood plunked Harper earlier in the game (appeared totally accidental) but then Luis Avilan became the third Braves pitcher to hit Harper over the past 11 days, and second within four innings. Then of course you know about Upton being plunked by Strasburg last night, and the strange wild pitches and subsequent ejections of both Strasburg and manager Davey Johnson.
It’s safe to say that tensions are running high between these two teams, and it could be interesting to see how both teams react to all the sour taste left in everyone’s collective mouths. I hope that players, managers, and yes fans will learn how to chill out and enjoy baseball.
As a former pitcher, I know well how easy it is to let frustrations drive you to making a stupid mistake, and I know how understandable it is for any team or player to try and “protect” another player. That said, risking the life or career of a hitter by throwing a 5.25 oz fastball at his head is just irresponsible to me. I hope we’ve seen the last of this teen-like angst. It may make for an exciting event and some drama, but it needs to end among men who at least appear to be adults.
Julio Teheran will take the mound today for the first time against the Nationals since plunking Harper back on August 6. I don’t know for sure as of this article whether Harper will be in the game, but I hope cooler heads will prevail. After today’s game, the Braves will play the Nats in one more series this year, beginning on September 16th. My hope is that however this series turns out, and the game today, that last series in September will be one where both teams can congratulate each other – one on a season well done, the other on better hopes for next year.