For the third time in five years the Nats were a bridesmaid, but not the bride. This time we were done in by the Dodgers in Game 5. This was my first game 5 appearance at Nats Park, and I was hoping to banish the ghosts of my appearance at Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS. Sadly, it was not to be. Granted the Nats of 2016 played better than the Nats of 2014 in the NLDS, as the score on Thursday night was 4-3 Dodgers, but it’s still a loss. This is the third time the team has failed to advance beyond the NLDS to the NLCS. Is there a curse on the team? Maybe. After all, we lost Strasburg due to a mass in his elbow in August, reducing our effective starting line up by 20%. Joe Ross went down with a shoulder problem just before Stras went on the DL, reducing our starting line up by another 20%.  The hardest blow came during the last week of the regular season, when catcher Wilson Ramos tried to catch a high throw from first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Ramos came down hard the wrong way, tearing his ACL, the same ACL he tore and had repaired in 2012. That, with the loss of Strasburg and Ross, made it highly unlikely we would beat the Cubs in the NLCS, even if we got past the NLDS. Still, if we could get past the NLDS, it would mean we had exorcised 2012 and 2014 from our system. Maybe.

It was Max Scherzer on the mound in the definitive game 5 on Thursday, 13 October, and he went into the 7th before giving up two runs that made the score 4-1. Our hearts were lifted when Stephen Drew hit a two run shot to make the score 4-3, but when we had bases loaded in the  bottom of the 8th, Anthony Rendon simply couldn’t connect to end the game in our favor. When I saw that Clayton Kershaw was warming up to close for the 9th, I knew that the Nats were in trouble. Sure enough, with Clinton Robinson on first, Daniel Murphy, our most powerful hitter, got jammed and popped up. With two outs, manager Dusty Baker, who had done numerous double switches and pitching changes in the 7th and 8th innings, had one batter left: rookie Wilmer Difo. In movies the rookie comes on and saves the day. In real life the rookie strikes out, the opposing team rushes the field to celebrate their NLDS victory, and the home crowd exits the stadium in stunned silence.

Yeah, it hurts like hell to watch the Dodgers take on the Cubs in the NLCS, but as I said earlier, we would have entered the NLCS at half strength. In a best of 7 series, we would have started Roark tonight, followed by Gio, Ross, and a starter to be named later. The Cubs probably would have swept us in 4 games.

I still love the Nats, and I’m still proud of this team. Unlike other teams, we don’t have to tear the organization to achieve greatness in 2017. We just need to tweak some positions. My suggestions:

Catcher-We stick with Lobaton and Severino, unless we can land a good free agent, like Jonathan Lucroy. If we can get Lucroy without breaking the bank

Shortstop-Danny Espinosa is amazing on the field, but he was less than stellar when batting during the latter part of the regular season. If we can trade him, let’s do so, and move Trea Turner into that slot.

Starting Pitching-Yes, I know. Conventional wisdom says you have to have at least one left handed starter, but Gio Gonzalez was, to put it mildly, a hot mess this year. Ironically he was the only Nats pitcher to beat the Dodgers this year, and he was on the winning side of the ledger in game 3 of this year’s NLDS, but overall, he was less than stellar. We shouldn’t go out and spend a lot of money on a free agent lefty this winter, but we should look at our farm system and see who can step up. 2017 is the last year of Gio’s current contract, and if I were the manager, he would be in the bullpen for long relief.

Bats-We need more pop in the middle and bottom of the lineup. With the loss of Ramos and the questionable bat of Espinosa, we let other teams feast on us when batters 7, 8 and 9 come to the plate. This is where a better hitting catcher, like Lucroy, or please God, Buster Posey, would be a huge addition.

I console myself with this little nugget: This team has been in the Washington area since 2005. In 11 years it has won the National League East Division three times. There are a lot of teams that would kill to be in our position. Yes, it hurts not to advance. I’m not going to lie and say that it doesn’t. But it feels great to have a team in this area that I can finally and truly call my own. I love baseball, I love the Nats, and I’m hopeful that one day my boys will win it all.