Spiraling Nationals ‘got to have heart,’ Bryce Harper pleads

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In discussing their strategy leading up to the trade deadline, Johnson and Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo — who was not made available for comment after the deadline passed — delivered similar messages. They stressed their belief in the talent already on their roster, and the desire for that talent to rise to the level they expected. Both pointed to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ turnaround this season as a reason for hope.

The Dodgers, who won 27 of 33 games to go from last in the National League West to first, underwent a historic run that featured the best stretch since the team moved to Los Angeles. For the Nationals to win 90 games, the number Johnson deemed a baseline for playoff teams, they would need to go 38-16 from here out.

“When the trade deadline comes around, you cause whatever’s going to happen,” LaRoche said. “Typically if you’re playing well and you’re in the hunt, you’ll fill some holes. If you’re down and out, chance to get rid of some guys. I think we kind of sat there right in the middle knowing that this team’s good enough to get it done and just isn’t doing it.”

The Nationals reached the proverbial fork in the road on deadline day and their season continued to careen down the tracks, at risk of falling at any moment. The silence that drenched their clubhouse was deafening, but the words of their players spoke louder. Their inaction at the deadline left them to figure out their issues in-house.

“We just need to be a family again,” said Harper. “That’s the biggest thing. It all starts with having good camaraderie in the clubhouse, having an upbeat clubhouse every single day, having an upbeat manager and staff every single day, no matter what.

“We’ve got two more months of baseball, and if we play like we’re capable, we will win this. We will do it. I know that for a fact, because we’ve got a great team, a great organization and we have guys on this team that are unbelievable. We need to keep going, keep grinding and do the things that we need to do. … We’ve got to play these last two months like we’ll never play this game again.”

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