Bill Ladson

Harper, Scherzer excel in down '15 for Nats

Slugger wins NL MVP Award; ace throws two no-hitters

Harper, Scherzer excel in down '15 for Nats

WASHINGTON -- Even though Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer had seasons to remember, the Nationals had a season to forget in 2015. They didn't even reach the postseason, finishing in second place in the National League East behind the NL champion Mets.

Washington's rotation wasn't as powerful as expected. Only Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg -- during the second half -- showed that they could be dominant. A lot of the blame for the team underachieving can be pointed toward the bullpen, which blew leads in some big games, especially against the Mets during the second half.

The day after the season ended, manager Matt Williams and his coaching staff were dismissed. A month later, Dusty Baker became the new manager of the Nationals. Here is a look at key storylines that highlighted the season for the Nats in 2015:

5. Nationals add Scherzer to the rotation
Scherzer showed why he got a seven-year, $210 million deal from the Nationals. He quickly became the ace of the pitching staff, leading the team in wins (14), strikeouts (276) and ERA (2.79). His best game was Oct. 3, when he pitched a no-hitter against the Mets at Citi Field, becoming the sixth pitcher to throw two no-hitters in the same season. Scherzer had a Nationals-record 17 strikeouts in that game, which also tied Nolan Ryan for the most in any no-hitter and set the record for the most strikeouts in a no-hit, no-walk game. Scherzer's first no-hitter came June 20 against the Pirates at Nationals Park. In that outing, Scherzer struck out 10 while posting his second consecutive shutout. He lost the perfect game with two outs in the ninth when he hit pinch-hitter Jose Tabata on the elbow on a 2-2 count.

Must C: Scherzer's second no-no

4. Too many land on the disabled list
A total of 17 players -- including Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon -- were put on the disabled list. The biggest blow was Denard Span, who was placed on the DL three times because of a left hip injury, back tightness and abdominal surgery. During his absence, the Nationals had to use at least four leadoff hitters -- Werth, Rendon, Michael Taylor and Yunel Escobar -- who didn't get on base as often as Span. Because of their many injuries, the Nationals restructured their medical and training staff.

Span's warm welcome back

3. The Nationals lose the lead in the East
On July 31, the Nationals were three games ahead of the Mets. Then the two teams met in a crucial three-game series at Citi Field, with the Mets completing a sweep. After that series, the Nationals went 17-16 and found themselves four games behind the Mets in the NL East when the two teams met for another three-game series at Nationals Park starting Sept. 7. The Mets swept that series, too, basically ending any chance of the Nats playing in the postseason. It didn't help that Washington's bullpen was not productive. There was a stretch in September in which Williams couldn't rely on any reliever to get important outs.

Recap: NYM 5, WSH 3

2. Nationals suspend Papelbon
The team announced on Sept. 28 that closer Jonathan Papelbon was suspended for four games without pay after his confrontation with Harper in a 12-5 loss to the Phillies the day before. After Harper popped up in the eighth inning of that game, Papelbon was seen saying to Harper, "You've got to run that ... ball out." Harper and Papelbon then got into a verbal exchange in the dugout. After a few seconds, Papelbon grabbed Harper's neck. Coaches and teammates had to break up the altercation.

Harper, Papelbon go at it

1. Harper is named NL MVP
Harper was rewarded for his hard work by becoming the third-youngest player to win the Baseball Writers' Association of America's NL Most Valuable Player Award. Harper won the award unanimously (the youngest to ever do so), receiving 30 first-place votes, while the D-backs' Paul Goldschmidt and the Reds' Joey Votto finished second and third, respectively, in the voting. Harper became the first player in franchise history to win the NL MVP Award. Montreal Expos right fielder Andre Dawson finished second twice, in 1981 and in '83. At 22 years, 353 days old on the final day of the season, Harper is behind only Hall of Famers Johnny Bench (22 years, 298 days for the Reds in 1970) and Stan Musial (22 years, 316 days for the Cardinals in '43) for the youngest NL players to be named MVP. Oakland's Vida Blue is the youngest MVP in baseball history, winning the American League MVP Award in 1971 at 22 years, 64 days old.

Harper wins 2015 NL MVP

Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.