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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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Jose Urena throws 1st complete game, Marlins rout Nationals 12-1

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Jose Urena throws 1st complete game, Marlins rout Nationals 12-1

WASHINGTON -- Jose Urena's previous start ended after one very heated pitch.

On Sunday, he went the distance.

Urena made the most of his borrowed time, pitching a two-hitter for his first complete game in the majors and leading the Miami Marlins over the Washington Nationals 12-1 on Sunday.

Urena (4-12) was suspended for six games by Major League Baseball after hitting Atlanta rookie Ronald Acuna Jr. on Wednesday. Urena was ejected from that start after throwing one fastball and appealed the penalty, keeping him eligible to play.

"I know what I did, and I know what kind of person I am and what kind of teammate," Urena said. "Just tried to execute my plan and go out there and have fun and show what I can do."

Urena, tied for the NL lead in hit batters, didn't plunk anyone on the Nationals, nor did he alter his approach. He struck out four, walked two and retired the last 16 batters. It was his first complete game in 74 big league starts.

"If you make a mistake you've got to pay," Urena said of Washington's lineup. "We tried to move their feet, make them uncomfortable at the plate. Try to attack the inside."

Right-hander Pablo Lopez was originally slated to start Sunday's game, but manager Don Mattingly opted to push him back to Tuesday and insert Urena.

The 26-year-old right-hander's next start would normally be scheduled for next weekend at home against the Braves. Urena could decide to drop the appeal, serve the suspension and miss that series -- after the game, he said he'll maintain the appeal.

Starlin Castro got a career-high five hits and scored three times. JT Riddle and J.T. Realmuto each homered and drove in three runs for Miami, with Riddle connecting for the second straight game. Isaac Galloway had three hits, including his first career homer.

It was the Marlins' first series win in Washington since 2014.

Trying to keep pace with the Braves and Phillies in the NL East, the third-place Nationals have now lost four of their last five against the last-place Marlins. The Nationals host the Phillies for three games beginning Tuesday night.

Gio Gonzalez (7-10) allowed eight runs on 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings. Over his last 13 starts, Gonzalez is 1-8 with 7.07 ERA.

"I think it was in all honesty an ugly game. And everybody saw it," manager Dave Martinez said. "Gio couldn't keep us in the game and it got ugly."

Leading 3-1, the Marlins broke it open with a five-run fifth. After Riddle's sacrifice fly, the Marlins loaded the bases and Rafael Ortega hit a bases-loaded, two-run double off the glove of a diving first baseman Matt Adams to end Gonzalez's afternoon.

Realmuto greeted reliever Greg Holland with a two-run single, making it 8-1.

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Bryce Harper drives in 3, Nationals snap skid, beat Cardinals 5-4

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Bryce Harper drives in 3, Nationals snap skid, beat Cardinals 5-4

ST. LOUIS -- Koda Glover rewarded his manager's faith.

Bryce Harper had three hits and drove in three runs, Glover earned the save in the first opportunity since Ryan Madson was placed on the disabled list, and the Washington Nationals snapped a four-game losing streak with a 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night.

The Nationals won for just the third time in their last 10 games and snapped the Cardinals' season-high, eight-game winning streak.

"We needed a win today," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "Get on that plane, have a nice happy flight and come back tomorrow and be at home and be ready."

Tanner Roark (8-12) gave up four runs, three earned, in six innings.

A beleaguered bullpen that had blown two leads to start the losing streak took care of the rest. Justin Miller pitched two scoreless innings before Glover closed it out.

"There's been a lot of changes (in the bullpen)," Miller said. "It's unfortunate, a couple of injuries and stuff like that, but I don't really look at it as I've got the seventh or eighth or anything like that. I'm just going out there just trying to do my job."

Glover took the loss in the series opener on Monday, giving up a game-ending homer to Paul DeJong.

"The first game of the series didn't go as I would have liked for it to have went," Glover said. "So to get put back in that situation or even a better situation to get a save, I'm happy with that outcome."

Harper drove in the game's first run with a double in the first and knocked in two more with a bases-loaded single in the fourth to give the Nationals a 4-1 lead.

A pair of errors helped the Nationals extend their lead to 5-1 in the fifth. St. Louis committed three errors in the game after committing just four total errors during the winning streak.

"A couple plays clearly we expect to make and will make and just didn't go our way for a little bit there," Cardinals interim manager Mike Shildt said. "To the guys' credit they regrouped, settled down, and started playing back to the baseball they know they can play."

The Nationals had opportunities to pad the lead, leaving the bases loaded in the third and fifth while stranding nine runners in the first five innings.

"When you have an opportunity to put teams away you've got to do that," Martinez said. "Especially with how hot the Cardinals are playing right now. They're going to come back."

The Cardinals got within one in the sixth. After DeJong and Kolten Wong came up with back-to-back, two-out RBI hits, Harrison Bader hit a slow grounder to third. Anthony Rendon's throw to first got away from Ryan Zimmerman for an error, allowing Wong to score from second to cut the Nationals' lead to 5-4.

Just two of the four runs Luke Weaver (6-11) allowed in his 3 2/3 innings were earned. He gave up seven hits, including two to Roark, who scored both times.

Tyson Ross allowed one unearned run in 3 1/3 innings of relief.

Bader homered in the third and Matt Carpenter walked twice to extend his on-base streak to a career-high 34 games.

TRAINING ROOM

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson will have an MRI on his sore right wrist on Friday. RHP Joe Ross (right elbow surgery) threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings at Class A Potomac on Thursday and is hoping for a September return.

Cardinals: RHP Carlos Martinez (right shoulder strain) will begin a rehab Friday at Double-A Springfield. RHP Adam Wainwright (right elbow inflammation) threw two scoreless innings Thursday night at High-A Palm Beach.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (15-5, 2.19 ERA) will take the mound as the Nationals return home for a three-game series Friday night against the Miami Marlins and RHP Dan Straily (4-5, 4.42 ERA). Scherzer is 3-0 with a 3.43 ERA in three starts this season against the Marlins.

Cardinals: RHP Jack Flaherty (6-6, 3.22 ERA) kicks off a three-game series Friday night as the Cardinals host the Milwaukee Brewers and RHP Freddy Peralta (5-3, 4.47 ERA). Flaherty struck out a career-high 13 batters in his last start against the Brewers on June 22.