Keeler: No reason to panic for Nats

For the second time in three years, the Washington Nationals had the best record in the National League and lost in the Divisional Series.

I know it must be sad and frustrating for Nationals fans, but I truly believe they are close to breaking through and going all the way.

It’s not like the Nationals have to blow up their team, they just need to add a few more pieces and then they’ll be set.

I think it’s pretty clear that the playoffs are a whole different monster than the regular season. Just because you have one of the best teams in baseball for 162 games doesn’t mean you will be the best in the playoffs. The Nationals, Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers are proof of that.

To be successful in the postseason, you need clutch performers. You need a clutch bullpen, clutch starters and clutch hitters. The postseason is all about being able to handle the pressure in the big moments and coming through.

There’s nobody in baseball better at that right now than the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants. The Cardinals have won more playoff games than any other team over the last 11 years. The Giants are trying for their third championship in five years. I believe that would be called a dynasty.

While the Nationals may have lost to both those teams over the last three years, they pushed both those squads.

The Nationals’ pitching is in pretty good shape. They could probably use another veteran starter with World Series experience. I think it’s important to surround yourself with as many champions as possible. You want experienced postseason players because they can help the other guys with less experience. Once you are a part of a championship, you don’t forget how that title was won and what it takes to get there.

Washington’s bullpen is also in pretty good shape, but they could also use another veteran or two. I think it’s important to have a combination of youth and experience. If you look at both the Cardinals and Giants, they have both on their teams.

When my beloved New York Yankees had their dynasty run in the late ’90s, they had that as well. The Yankees had lots of veteran players, but they also had some young guys named Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. I think over the years the Yankees have forgotten that formula that worked so well.

The biggest concern for the Nationals is their hitting. This is where I think they need to make the most changes. They need to take a good hard look at who produced in the postseason and who didn’t, and then try to go out and get more veteran players, preferably ones who have a few championship rings. One player they clearly can count on is Bryce Harper. The 21-year old showed that he is everything he’s been hyped up to be.

Harper loves the big stage and seems to perform at his best in the big moments. That’s exactly the type of guys you need to win championships. The Nationals just need a few more guys like Harper and I have no doubt they’ll be winning championships.

Another player who showed he’s a keeper is Jordan Zimmermann. It’s hard to imagine anyone could have performed much better than he did in pitching in Game 2. Washington manager Matt Williams should have left Zimmermann in the game, and maybe the overall outcome would have been different.

That brings me to Williams. I thought that when the Nationals hired him it was a good move, in part because Williams was one of those clutch performers that I’ve talked about. He knows how to win and what it takes to win. Of course, that was as a player. To do it as a manager is a little different. Time will tell if Williams has what it takes to make the right choices in a matter of seconds when everything is on the line.

If Williams can get better at making the right moves on the field, and the Nationals do a good job in the offseason making the right moves off the field, then the Nationals could very well win it all next year.

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com