Counting the ways the Nationals’ year went off the rails

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ST. LOUIS — It was not easy for Davey Johnson to get to sleep on Monday night.

For the first time since September 2011, the Washington Nationals’ manager returned from a game knowing that the next one was meaningless to their fate. The night his team was eliminated from playoff contention left the 70-year-old tossing and turning.

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“Things run through your mind,” he said Tuesday. “‘What if? What if?’

“All of a sudden it hits you like a ton of bricks. You say ‘Oh, dang, now what am I going to do?’ I go home, that’s what I do.”

For the Nationals, once the cold reality of elimination began to set in, there wasn’t much else to do other than pick themselves up and return to the field. They had five more games to play.

But how their season got here, how such bravado — justified by immense potential — and expectation withered away over the course of the summer, is a question the Nationals will be trying to answer for months as they analyze the year and try to avoid repeating their missteps.

It is no small task.

“If it was that easy to figure it out people would pick who’s going to win every year, who’s going to win every award and what people are going to hit,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “That’s why sports are so appealing.

“Obviously we’re a better team than what we showed, but at the end of the year we’re going to have close to 90 wins so it’s not like we were terrible. The Braves played really well. We dug ourselves too big of a hole to somehow sneak into the playoffs and that’s just kind of the way it was. Hopefully we’ll learn from the mistakes or the experience of this year and use it next year.”

As Johnson said late Monday night, there are “a thousand different” reasons the Nationals’ season ended in elimination, as opposed to celebration. But here are three issues that contributed to their struggle:

Key injuries

Every team deals with injuries and many were dealt a far worse hand than the Nationals. But they did lose key members for an extended period of time with Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos and Ross Detwiler all missing at least a month of action.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m a game-changer or anything like that but we’re a great team and me being in this lineup is huge,” Harper said Monday, acknowledging the Nationals’ 63-51 record with him in the lineup, compared to 21-22 without him. “I’ve got to try to be in this lineup every night.”

Similarly, the Nationals went 69-56 when Werth played, and 15-17 when he didn’t. Ramos, who missed the most time of any position player, helped them to a 46-28 record. They were 38-45 in his absence. When all three players were in the lineup, the Nationals were 33-20 — a .623 winning percentage and a 100-win pace.

Failings of the bullpen and bench

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