MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Nationals left to reflect on what-ifs

Harper wishes Mets well after Washington bumped from contention

Nationals left to reflect on what-ifs

WASHINGTON -- About 20 minutes after Bryce Harper's double gave the Nationals a 2-1, 12-inning victory over the Phillies on Saturday night, manager Matt Williams -- already aware that his team was eliminated from postseason play -- did not want to talk about why the Nationals underachieved this season. His mind was on Sunday's game.

However, outfielder Jayson Werth was clearly upset that he will not play in the postseason for the eighth time in his career.

"It's tough to play when you really don't have anything to play for," Werth said. "It's unfortunate. I've been playing this game a long time, and every year your goal is to win a World Series. So, obviously, when that is finally realized that's not the case, it's tough. A lot of hard work. A lot of time spent working toward the goal. And when it's over, it sucks."

The Nationals were expected to reach the World Series after they acquired right-hander Max Scherzer via free agency. Harper went so far in Spring Training to ask the burning question, "Where's my [World Series] ring?"

But the Nationals (79-75) will finish the season in second place, and they hope to have a record over .500 after the last eight games. It didn't help their cause that the Mets made significant Trade Deadline moves that put them over the top, according to Harper.

"The Mets had everything going for them," Harper said. "That Deadline came around, they got [Yoenis] Cespedes, [Tyler] Clippard. They built their team. They did a great job this year and they are doing it. Coming from the East, I hope they win it all. Good luck to them."

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The Nationals went into the All-Star break in first place, but injury began to take its toll. They were without key players like Werth, Denard Span, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg for lengthy periods. When most of those players returned, it wasn't enough to overcome the Mets.

The bullpen underachieved. The team missed Clippard, who was traded to the Athletics in January, and Craig Stammen, who missed most of the season because of a forearm strain. Casey Janssen was signed to replace Clippard as one of the setup guys but was hit hard when it counted most.

The Nationals did make one Deadline move, trading for closer Jonathan Papelbon. That didn't work too well. He didn't get many save opportunities, while Drew Storen -- who was moved to a setup role -- was hit hard during the second half before a thumb injury.

Let's not forget that starters such as Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez were not at their best during the second half.

"It's kind of that season of what-ifs," Janssen said. "I think, on a personal level, I underachieved a little bit, and a lot of people would have that same statement. We had some significant injuries. Bottom line is, we didn't get it done. When you have the pieces in place to have that special season, it didn't happen."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All theTime. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.