There's been a lot of talk about the Nationals "collapsing" in the second-half of the season, and we guess they have. It's hard to argue that you haven't collapsed when you go from 16 games above .500 at the All-Star Break to .500 with six games left in the season.
But there's another way to think about this. At the All-Star Break we put up a post pointed out that the Nationals' runs scored-runs allowed differential was an ominous sign of not so good things to come. (We weren't the only ones making this point, but this is our blog, and we tend to think really highly of ourselves, so we'll only site to us.) The Nationals then were 2.5 games up on the Braves, but when you reconfigured the standings using Bill James' Pythagorean Theorem, the Nationals fell to fourth place, 9.5 games behind the Braves and only .5 games ahead of the last-place Phillies. The Nationals' winning percentage in those reconfigured standings? .500.
It was obvious to anyone paying attention that if the Nationals didn't do something to improve their hitting they would fall back to earth, probably before the season's end. The main reason the Nationals were in first place at the All-Star Break was that they were winning almost all of their one-run games. Their pitching was awesome, second only to the Braves in runs allowed in the National League, so the only realistic way for the Nats to improve was to score more runs. Unfortunately, their hitters were hitting at about their expected level, so to score more runs the Nationals needed to get better hitters through trades.
Rather than make those trades, Jim Bowden assumed that the Nationals could defy the baseball gods forever. He berated the hitters and acted like the team was just one more pep talk away from walking into the playoffs. He failed to make the trades at the trade deadline that would improve the team's hitting, so the Nationals went into the second half with a team that didn't score enough runs to play above .500 for long.
Is it any surprise, then, that the Nationals have fallen to .500? Sure, it was possible for them to finish better than this, but you can win all of your one-run games for only so long. It's natural that the players would blame themselves, as Gary Bennett does in today's game story in the Post, but the real blame for this finish should be placed at the feet of the person who was in a position to improve the team, but who failed to do so--Jim Bowden.