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Red Sox history bodes ill for 2016 Nationals

Red Sox fans have first-hand experience with offseason champions failing to live up to expectations, and the rough rebuilds that can follow. Good luck, Nationals. You'll need it.

Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Red Sox fans will not soon forget the story of 2011. Expected to be a juggernaut after an offseason that saw them add both Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to a 2010 team that likely only missed out on the playoffs due to injury, the Red Sox started off the season 0-6, then 2-10. They would finally hit their stride in May, however, and by the end of the month they had caught up to their A.L. East competition. They spent much of the ensuing months in first place, looking every bit the team they were supposed to be.

And then came September, and with it 20 losses. The Red Sox plummeted out of first place in the blink of an eye, and finally found themselves eliminated from playoff competition in an astonishing final day of the season that saw the Rays overcome a huge deficit against a Yankees team with little motivation and the Red Sox blow a ninth-inning lead against the Orioles. There has never been a more disappointing 90-win team.

It's a story that might ring all-too familiar for Washington Nationals fans. Last year, they entered the season looking like on of baseball's best teams. They'd added Max Scherzer to a team that had already taken the East in 2014 with a 96-66 record. While they had lost a decent number of players, few were really even names worth mentioning. Like the Red Sox, they too opened with a whimper. 1-4 to start the year, 10-13 in April. Like the Red Sox, they bounced back, and by July 5th found themselves with a 4.5 game lead in the N.L. East.

Ultimately, their fall was not quite so dramatic. Their division lead would be gone after the first few days of August, and rather than a 7-20 run to the finish, the Nationals set themselves as far back as they had once been ahead with a six-game losing streak in the middle of the month. By the time September rolled around they were long shots, leaving no unbelievable finish, just plenty of time for the post-mortem to be written before the season was truly done.

At the end of the day, though, you have two teams that were supposed to contend for the whole damn thing missing out on the playoffs entirely. Two coaching staffs dismissed in short order. Two franchises facing times of crisis, and perhaps not handling it all that well. The parallels are numerous, and easy to come by. Hell, Jonathan Papelbon even choked for both teams, albeit in different ways.

The "perhaps" is for the Nationals, really. Looking at Boston it's pretty clear the Red Sox' efforts at reconstruction were a disaster. After shuffling Terry Francona and co. out the door with one of the uglier moments in Boston sports media history, the Red Sox saw Theo Epstein jump on a lifeboat to Chicago, and were left with an over-full payroll, a furious fanbase, and a defeated roster.

The solution? Dump Marco Scutaro's salary, convert Daniel Bard into a starter, trade for Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon, and hire Bobby Valentine. Disaster, disaster, disaster, disaster. Marco Scutaro put up another solid season at shortstop in the National League while the Sox saw a promising career burn up before their eyes in Daniel Bard. Mark Melancon struggled so much in the first days of the season that he was shipped to the minor leagues, with his late rebound ignored when the Red Sox decided to trade him away for—speaking of disaster—Joel Hanrahan. Andrew Bailey was Andrew Bailey, which is to say he pitched 15 innings with a 7.04 ERA. And Bobby Valentine managed to alienate the locker room to the point where players were holding secret meetings with ownership and sending semi-anonymous messages with other players' cell phones to decry his handling of the club.

For the Nationals' part...well, there's a lot of footstep following to be found here.

They hired another old-school manager, this one with a reputation for ruining players rather than clubhouses. Dusty Baker has already not disappointed. His first real week on the job saw the 65-year-old refer to his franchise position player by the wrong name on multiple occasions. Either his age has caught up to him and he's too old for this job, or he's doing it on purpose to try to bring Bryce Harper down a peg, in which case his age has still caught up to him and he's still too old for this job, just in a different way.

Their rotation and bullpen shuffling happened back in 2015, when they shifted Tanner Roarke to the bullpen. His 2.85 ERA in 2014 ballooned to 4.38 in 2015, with his struggles only getting worse when he returned to the rotation. The Nationals can only hope he will rebound in 2016, rather than falling further and finding himself as the next Daniel Bard.

And for the holes they needed to fill, they added...well, not much. Daniel Murphy rode a huge postseason into a $37.5 million contract having posted only one season with even as much as two rWAR, and that coming back in 2011. And...that's about it. Whether it's because the mark of a disaster season lingers, or because the Nationals weren't quite able to play with everyone else financially after splurging the year before, but the Nationals struck out time and time again.

If there is hope for the 2016 Nationals, it's much the same as the hope for the 2012 Red Sox. That the remaining core of a team that was expected to dominate will be able to meet those expectations, just one year later. And frankly, the 2012 Red Sox' results aren't quite as discouraging as they might appear at first. Yes, they finished with a terrible record. Yes, they were an utter disaster off-the-field. But the fact is that, if the 2012 team was, in retrospect, never headed for greatness, they were not quite such a train-wreck for much of the year as they seemed at the end. The 2012 Red Sox were a .500 team up until The Punto Trade.

But if that's reason to hope, it's not reason to hope much. The Nationals still have some talented players, but where the 2011 Red Sox won 90 games, and we might be telling a much different story if the second wild card game had come just a bit earlier, the 2015 Nationals did not come close. They finished seven games back in their division, with a mediocre 83-79 record, with a wild card spot even further off. They didn't just need to get the same results in a more favorable environment. They needed to improve, and it's extremely hard to argue they did that having lost Jordan Zimmermann and a handful of other reasonable players while adding so little.

But if the 2012 Red Sox taught us anything, it's that there's no such thing as a team beyond repair. One top-tier repair job is all it takes to go from last place to the World Series. Good luck, Washington.