WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 07: Manager Davey Johnson #5 congratulates Ryan Zimmerman #11 of the Washington Nationals after he scored during the third inning against the Chicago Cubs at Nationals Park on July 7, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Though the Nationals have plenty of clubhouse leaders in 2011, the term "on-field leader" is a bit alien to them. Not having one has been costing Washington more than they realize.
The Washington Nationals began the second half of the 2011 season the same way they started the first half: dropping a series to NL East rival Atlanta Braves. I am guessing you pretty much feel the same way I do now: pretty downtrodden. The Nationals once again showed an inability to finish off an opponent after they seemed to be crushing them. This is what is best in life, especially the sporting life, but the Nationals haven't really figured this out yet.
As what many do in a bad mood, I turned to one of my own vices to make me feel better. While I might get laughed at and have a few in my harem suddenly run away by confessing this, I feel the need to come clean and admit that I enjoy getting my dork on. Not in the Harry Potter, Star Trek or Pokemon sense, but in the obsession of the xenomorph. I am a obsessive fan of the Alien franchise, and after the Nats dropped a heartbreaker, 9-8, on Sunday to the Braves and having to endure that chopping motion from a bunch of Chipper Jones fans, I threw in the highly under appreciated Alien 3 for a watch.
I won't spoil the film except for one part: about a quarter of the way through the movie, we get a plot-turning death. The only leader of the main group is a fat, bald guy who is the colony idiot with an IQ of 85 and doesn't believe there is a monster stalking them. During one point of the film, the alien suddenly drops out of an air shaft in front of all the cons, grabs the fat guy and dispatches him in a gory manner that warms the cockles of my heart. Now the alien is a reality to all those involved and they have no actual leader. They of course, for a period, scatter and turn against each other in confusion.
This sort of mirrors the Nationals in a way.
Some big, bad jacked-up alien has someway or another popped out of nowhere and taken away the leadership possibilities of the Nationals. The creature has come in many forms. The injury bug has come out of the dark and savaged players like Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, Ivan Rodriguez and Adam LaRoche. A green-eyed monster snatched up former manager Jim Riggleman, though few are mourning his demise. Jayson Werth has been utterly consumed by a "Slump," there is a good chance that general manager Mike Rizzo has been taken over by pod people and there are a couple of players like Doug Slaten, Matt Stairs and now even Sean Burnett that have had any talent they had infected by the alien.
Thanks to all these various cosmic succubi, the Nats have tended to look uninspired, confused and characterless fodder to their foes. I am not saying the Nationals don't have leadership, because they do. They have more than enough in Pudge, Werth, Stairs, Jerry Hairston Jr. But their offerings of leadership have been more the clubhouse variety than on the field. Regardless of what some analysts might say, the game is actually played out on the field for nine innings, and not in the locker room. The Nationals have had plenty of clubhouse heroes and sages, but these vampires rarely showed themselves on the field. The Nationals truly lack that one (or two) inspirational players that tend to get it done and lead by example on the field itself. Game-changers if you will.
The Nationals have gotten their fair share of flavor-of-the-week heroes. From time to time, players like Michael Morse, Laynce Nix, Roger Bernandina and Jason Marquis will give some strong pop, but they haven't had the staying power. Immediately some will speak up for Zimmerman or even Livan Hernandez, but Zimmerman has never been the total leader type and Hernandez is aging on the vine and wrapped up in scandal. There is plenty of potential in guys like Danny Espinosa, Drew Storen and, dare I say it, Bryce Harper, but they are not yet seasoned for the role.
The closest the Nationals have right now to a leader, a symbol, a Washington Batman is Strasburg. His performance on the mound has the potential to motivate and create a desire to want to do better, to want to not let him down. However, Washington knows where Strasburg stands right now. He probably won't be back until 2012.
The Nationals need someone to step up. It won't solve all their problems nor guarantee a plus-.500 record, but it would breed confidence not only in the players, but the fanbase as well. As much as I like to watch all four Alien movies and see the beasties wreck bloody mayhem over and over again, it doesn't mean I like to see the same gore on the baseball field night after night.