Patrick Smith/Getty Images

A familiar refrain for the Nationals: Close, but no cigar


The Nationals have been in the postseason in four out of the last six years. They still have yet to win a playoff series. They officially became the Nationals (nee Expos) in 2005, but missed the playoffs up until 2012. After each playoff exit, the club’s manager faced scrutiny. Davey Johnson lasted just one more season after losing in 2012. Matt Williams had one more year after the Nats lost in 2014. Dusty Baker was at the helm each of the last two seasons in which they failed in the playoffs and he’ll be under the microscope for the next week or so in the aftermath of the NLDS.

Nationals fans and detractors alike can pinpoint specific moments of abject failure. In 2012, it was closer Drew Storen giving up two two-run singles to the Cardinals in the ninth inning, erasing a two-run lead and creating a two-run deficit. In 2014, it was Joe Panik scoring the go-ahead run in the seventh inning on an Aaron Barrett wild pitch. In 2016, it was the Nationals’ inability to solve closer Clayton Kershawwhat? — after he relieved Kenley Jansen in the ninth. This time, it was Jose Lobaton straying just a bit too far from the first base bag and being nabbed on a microscopic infraction, popping his foot off the first base bag for a microsecond.

Three of the four playoff series the Nationals have played over the last six years have gone to a decisive fifth game. The Nats have been plenty competitive and they have been able to hang with any team, but a combination of bad luck, bad timing, and bad execution have led to zero playoff series wins. For example, the run differential for the Nationals and Giants in the 2014 NLDS was zero, each team scored nine runs. In the 2016 NLDS, the Nationals outscored the Dodgers 24-19. This year, the Nationals outscored the Cubs 20-17 in the NLDS.

The Nationals made many mistakes in Game 5 of the NLDS on Thursday evening. But so, too, did the Cubs. The Cubs had slightly better timing and as such have earned the right to play in the NLCS. One has to feel bad for Nationals fans, who have come so close to tasting playoff success in recent years but have never actually gotten there. Branch Rickey once said that “baseball is a game of inches” and no team knows that better than the Nationals.

Madison Bumgarner diagnosed with fractured left hand

Getty Images

Giants ace left-hander Madison Bumgarner has been diagnosed with a fractured left hand, per a report from Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. He’ll undergo surgery on Saturday to insert pins in his pinky knuckle, adds The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly, and is expected miss anywhere from 4-6 weeks in recovery before he’s cleared to throw again. In a best-case scenario, the lefty will be ready to pitch again before the All-Star break, but nothing is set in stone just yet.

Bumgarner suffered the fracture during the third inning of Friday’s Cactus League game against the Royals. Whit Merrifield returned a line drive up the middle and the ball deflected off the top of Bumgarner’s pitching hand before bouncing into the infield. He chased after the ball but was unable to pick it up, and was immediately visited by manager Bruce Bochy and a team trainer before exiting the game.

The 28-year-old southpaw was gearing up for a massive comeback after losing significant playing time with an injury in 2017. During his tumultuous run with the Giants last year, he missed nearly three months on the disabled list after spraining his shoulder and bruising his ribs in a dirt bike accident. He finished the season with a 4-9 record in 17 starts and a 3.32 ERA (his first 3.00+ ERA since 2012), 1.6 BB/9 and 8.2 SO/9 over 111 innings. The Giants suffered as well; by season’s end, their pitching staff ranked seventh-worst in the National League with a cumulative 4.58 ERA and 10.1 fWAR.

This is the second massive injury the Giants’ rotation has sustained this week after right-hander Jeff Samardzija was diagnosed with a strained pectoral muscle on Thursday. “Horrible news for us,” Bochy told reporters after Friday’s game. “That’s all you can say about it. There’s nothing you can do but push on.”