Bill Ladson

Nats nearly triumph in 2016 behind vets' energy

Rookie Turner also breaks out as Scherzer, Murphy have career years

Nats nearly triumph in 2016 behind vets' energy

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals had the talent to go far into the postseason this year, but for the third time in five years, they were bounced in the National League Division Series, this time by the Dodgers.

Even though Washington fell short of reaching the World Series, manager Dusty Baker held his head up high and praised his team's effort for the year.

"I'm proud of my guys on how they played this year and how they played through injuries and just kept fighting and fighting, even down to the last out of this game [against Los Angeles]," Baker said "I have nothing but praise for the guys on this team, because they gave me, the organization and the city all they had. I mean, it's tough to take, but you know, you have to be proud of what they accomplished so far."

The season may be over, but Baker is already thinking about next year and the improvements he wants to see from his team.

"I'd like to go back to the drawing board and get better fundamental play, cut down on our strikeouts, cut down on our walks [as pitchers]," Baker said. "Because you know, in this series, it seemed like whenever we walked somebody, they scored."

Record: 95-67, first place, National League East.

Defining moment: It was Sept. 24. The Nationals defeated the Pirates, 6-1, and won their third National League East title in five years. From the moment he was named manager last November, Baker felt he had a good enough team to go to the postseason. It helped that he had a pitching staff that included Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark. On offense, Daniel Murphy and Wilson Ramos were imposing in the batter's box.

Must C: Nats clinch NL East

What went right: It started with Baker, who brought brotherhood into the clubhouse. Basketball great Bill Russell and NFL Hall of Famer Bill Walsh taught Baker that a close relationship between players brings a winning atmosphere. The clubhouse was free of the discord that became an issue during a disappointing 2015 season.

For most of the season, Baker had a rotation that included Scherzer, Roark and Stephen Strasburg. Baker would often say those three guys would be his starters in the first three games of the postseason.

The bullpen was much better compared to last year. General manager Mike Rizzo solidified it by adding closer Mark Melancon before the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Melancon earns 47th save

Murphy and Ramos carried the offense; Murphy is an MVP candidate, while Ramos had the best season of his career. Lasik surgery is the reason for Ramos' productivity.

What went wrong: It didn't come until the NLDS against the Dodgers. First of all, the Nationals played without Ramos and Strasburg because of injuries.

Washington had Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw on the ropes twice in the series, but it lost both games. Then there's Bob Henley's head-scratching decision to send Jayson Werth home in the sixth inning of Game 5. Werth had no chance of scoring and was easily thrown out at the plate.

Toles, Seager nab Werth at home

Baker ended up having his worst game as a manager in that game. He made too many double switches to the point where Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon were out by the seventh. By the end of the game, instead of Zimmerman or Rendon getting key at-bats in the late innings, the Nationals had to rely on players such as Michael Taylor and Wilmer Difo, who struck out to end the game.

Biggest surprise: Sammy Solis was the only left-hander on the team whom Baker didn't consider a specialist. Solis could be a long man or pitch in the late innings. Unfortunately, he would miss more than a month of action because of shoulder inflammation. Solis came back in time for the postseason, but many felt he wasn't used enough in the NLDS.

Solis' solid relief outing

Hitter of the Year: Murphy had a season for the ages, hitting .347 with 25 home runs and 104 RBIs, all career highs. Remember, before the season started, the Nationals traded for Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, but he used his 10-5 rights to reject the trade. Washington then went in a different direction and signed Murphy to a three-year deal.

Murphy's four-RBI Game 4

Pitcher of the Year: In just two years, Scherzer has become the best pitcher in Nationals history. Besides being the second pitcher in Nationals history to win 20 games, Scherzer was tied for second in MLB in quality starts with 26 and became the fourth pitcher in Major League history to strike out 20 batters in a game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Scherzer carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning nine times in the past two seasons, spanning 13.4 percent of his 67 starts.

Rookie of the Year: It was July 26. It was Trea Turner's first starting assignment in center field, and it came against the Indians. He never left the position, except for a few games at second base. As it turned out, Turner became the everyday leadoff hitter after the team started the season with Ben Revere at the top. Turner also became the first rookie in franchise history with 20 or more stolen bases since Mike Lansing in 1993.

Turner steals second in the 3rd

Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for since 2002 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.