For all of the Nationals‘ struggles — they entered Tuesday’s game with the division race all but over to go along with an eight-game mountain to climb in the wild-card race — they’ve been five games better than the Giants this season.
The Giants are the worst defending champion at this point in the season since the 1998 Florida Marlins, who finished 52 games behind the Braves.
That struggle, as well as the Nationals‘ to an extent, perhaps exemplifies just how difficult it is to do what either team did a season ago. Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has said on multiple occasions this season that it’s hard to make people understand what a challenge it is to win 98 games, or make the playoffs year in, year out. He’s not alone.
“I think people take it for granted [how difficult it is],” said right-hander Tyler Clippard. “Especially with the success teams have had in the past with strings of getting into the playoffs or strings of World Series championships.
“That stuff is very special and it doesn’t happen a lot. When it happens a lot, people kind of water down their expectations of it. But each time you do it, it’s a very special thing. I think [the seasons we’re both having] kind of puts everything in perspective as far as how hard it is.”
What has made the Nationals and Giants so mutually unique, however, is that neither has had to deal with a catastrophic rash of injuries, or one glaring weakness they can point to as the root of their struggles. It’s all little things, here and there, that have conspired against them.
“When there’s a lot of little cracks in the dam, a lot of water starts coming through,” Johnson said. “Too many cracks and you’ve got a flood. It’s hard to change that momentum around. … All those little things, it’s not just one thing, they add up.”