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What went wrong for the Nationals in 2015?

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What went wrong for the Nationals in 2015?

The 2015 season was a massive disappointment for the Nationals, who fell short of the playoffs and a World Series title they were expected to compete for. In attempt to make sense of what went wrong for them and how they can prevent it from happening again, we've put together a three-part series on the 2015 season. In this, our first installment, we look at why they underachieved...

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE NATIONALS IN 2015?

Mark Zuckerman:

The Nationals underachieved this season not because of one all-encompassing issue but because of several lesser issues that, when put together, derailed this ballclub.

The reason team officials and players cited most was injuries, and certainly those did play a significant role. The Nats opened the season without their No. 1, 2 or 3 hitters (Denard Span, Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth) and not one of them wound up appearing in more than 88 games. Ryan Zimmerman started the year healthy but didn't finish healthy. Stephen Strasburg only made 23 starts, the first 10 of them not feeling 100 percent. Craig Stammen, Casey Janssen, Aaron Barrett and David Carpenter all missed considerable time with arm injuries.

That much lost manpower is going to be difficult for any team to overcome, though the Mets and Cardinals certainly proved you can still win big in spite of injuries.

It's also easy to blame to the Nationals' bullpen, which featured a mishmash of past-their-prime veterans and inexperienced newcomers. And Mike Rizzo's response to fixing that obvious problem area (trading for Jonathan Papelbon) only created bigger problems.

But to me, the biggest reason for the Nationals' disappointing season is the inability of what was supposed to be this team's unquestioned strength — the vaunted starting rotation — to live up to its lofty expectations.

Take each starter's season individually, and there's not a whole lot to find fault with. Max Scherzer (2.77 ERA, 276 strikeouts, 34 walks) was ridiculously dominant for the most part. Jordan Zimmermann (3.66 ERA, 164 strikeouts, 39 walks) was solid. Gio Gonzalez (11-8, 3.79) was his usual self. Strasburg gave up fewer hits, walked fewer batters and struck out more batters per nine innings than he did in 2014.

But collectively, that group did not come close to its full potential. The rotation's overall 3.70 ERA was worse than any of the previous three seasons, a full 66 points worse than the group's MLB-best 3.04 mark in 2014. Starters gave up more home runs (104) than in any season since 2009. They pitched 36 fewer innings.

A great rotation could have masked a lot of this team's other issues. It could have taken pressure off the injury-depleted lineup. It could have prevented Matt Williams from needing to call upon his beleaguered setup men to get out of tight spots in the sixth and seventh innings. It could have given the entire clubhouse reason to feel more confident in the likelihood of victory every night the players took the field.

That doesn't mean the Nationals didn't have problems beyond their rotation. Of course they did. There were far more flaws on the roster, on the coaching staff and in the front office than anybody reasonably expected when the season began.

But this team was built all along to win behind what was supposed to be an historically great rotation. That group was merely good, and so all of the Nationals' other flaws ultimately came together to create major disappointment.

Chase Hughes: 

Any time a team with championship aspirations stumbles as hard as the Nationals did this season, there are always plenty of problems to point to. For the Nats, those factors included a shoddy bullpen, a starting rotation that was nowhere near what it was supposed to be, injuries to their lineup, poor coaching in key spots and a front office that underestimated clubhouse chemistry in a trade that could go down as a cautionary tale for years to come.

Those all have to be mentioned, but I would like to zero in on what I would call an absent sense of urgency, which in turn caused key mistakes at moments where the Nationals needed to persevere and make changes to save their season.

Just like in 2013, the Nationals made several adjustments this year that were either miscalculated or executed far too late. They were once again too patient with struggling veterans. And once again they did not press the right buttons with midseason moves both in terms of trades and promoting from within.

This time, they should have added an outfielder not just before the deadline, but weeks before it arrived. More outfield depth would have made things much easier for Matt Williams with Denard Span out and it would have allowed Jayson Werth some much-needed days off as he got back into the fold.

They should have added a reliever to complement Drew Storen, not supplant him. Instead, they traded for Jonathan Papelbon in a boom-or-bust deal that completely blew up in their faces.

The most troubling takeaway from this season to me, however, is how the team panicked once things went wrong. CBS Sports and The Washington Post recently published stories that were excellent reporting, but they highlighted some key big-picture concerns.

In 2013, the Nationals were a team that fell short of expectations, but they didn’t embarrass themselves while doing so. This time they went from a functional, model franchise to dysfunctional, all within a few short weeks.

Next time the going gets tough, will the backstabbing and anonymous shots across the clubhouse emerge again? Will players undermine their manager both publicly and privately if things don’t go their way? Winning can cure a lot of things, but the Nationals showed they are a team that is a few bad losses from turning on each other.

The Nationals now have looming questions about their ability to handle adversity. We’ve seen them come up short in big moments on the field, and now it's possible they have trouble dealing with pressure off of it.

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With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

WASHINGTON  -- The Washington Nationals say they have agreed to a one-year deal with 40-year-old reliever Joaquin Benoit.

The team announced the move Wednesday, along with placing pitcher Joe Ross on the 60-day disabled list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery in July.

The Nationals didn't release terms of the agreement, though a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on Monday that it was for $1 million.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the deal wasn't official at the time.

MORE NATIONALS: FULL 2018 SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

Benoit is a right-hander who first reached the big leagues in 2001. 

He has played for eight teams, finishing last year with Pittsburgh.

He has 764 career appearances, going 58-49 with a 3.83 ERA and 53 saves.

RELATED: 2018 MLB BETTING ODDS

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It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

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Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE