Sunday was Fan Appreciation Day at Nationals Park. Sunday was not, however, Teammate Appreciation Day. Young, rising star and MVP-candidate Bryce Harper and closer Jonathan Papelbon got into a verbal altercation that turned physical, which needed to be separated by teammates. It all started when Harper didn’t run out a fly ball and Papelbon got on his case. Harper didn’t like it and tempers flared and the situation escalated.
What started out as a season World Series potential, has now turned ugly in the final month, capped off by the altercation that occurred Sunday. This team was considered a legitimate threat to win the World Series, but was not able sustain the preseason hype or the good start. The scuffle between Harper and Papelbon – which both players have said is something that’s already been resolved, calling it a “brother fight” – was just the final nail in the proverbial coffin of the 2015 Nationals season. The Major League Baseball season is 162 games, which requires a lot of work and preparation. The guys on the teams are around ones other for six-plus months and that can take its toll on certain players depending on how the season is going. If a team is just bad or a team doesn’t live up to expectations, tempers can flare, emotions can run high and frustrations can mount. One little thing could set any player off, causing an incident similar to what happened Sunday
All the work and preparation that the players and coaches put into this season is now a lost cause as the Nationals were eliminated from playoff contention on Saturday as the New York Mets clinched the NL East. The NL Central will be sending three teams to the postseason.
Losing is never easy to deal with, no matter what level a player is playing at. It is completely natural for incidents like this to occur, but not as far as Papelbon took it by trying to choke Harper. Papelbon shouldn’t have gotten on Harper the way he did. Should Harper have jawed back? Probably not, but when you are an MVP-candidate and your team fails to reach its goals, you are criticized more for it. The situation escalated a little too far, but it’s not uncommon.
Now let’s break down both Papelbon’s involvement and how Manager Matt Williams handled the situation. First off, Papelbon is a veteran in the league, where Harper has barely had a cup of coffee. It’s one thing to get on a guy for not hustling, but you have to do so in a certain manner, especially when you’re a veteran. Papelbon started the confrontation, continued it once Harper got back into the dugout, then put his left hand around Harper’s throat. The veteran should not allow such incidents to escalate to that point or even let them start for that matter. Williams handled this very poorly. First off, Harper was removed from the game. Then, Papelbon was put in to pitch and got shelled. The Phillies jumped all over Papelbon en route to a 12-5 victory, handing the Nats their fifth loss in six games. How can Williams justify benching one but not the other, let alone the other being the one who started it? Williams’ job security has been heavily questioned and discussed over the past few weeks and this will not help his cause. After the game, he did not want to address the matter, calling it a “family issue” and did not comment on why Harper was taken out and not Papelbon nor did he address if Papelbon would face an internal-disciplinary action such as a fine or suspension. Williams could be entering his final week as the manager of the Nationals.
When the Nats acquired Papelbon, they held a one-game lead in the division. Since that point, Washington has been eliminated from postseason contention and fallen nine games behind the first place Mets. There was some criticism and questioning of the move to acquire Papelbon and he is proving why there was such doubt around the deal.
The Washington Nationals were a team many picked to win the World Series this season. Now, they are a team of what-could-have-been. The altercation was the final blow to the Nats season with a week left to play. You can expect changes to be coming to the Nation’s Capital in the offseason.