For the Nationals, an early slide has become all too familiar.
Washington stumbled out to a 1-5 start to the 2021 season before beating the St. Louis Cardinals 5-2 on Monday night. The team was without several key players for those first six games thanks to a COVID outbreak discovered just before Opening Day. Eight of the nine players originally ruled out have since returned, but the Nationals still face an uphill climb in what figures to be a tightly contested NL East.
Not that a bad start has stopped Washington before. The team was 19-31 on May 24, 2019, before turning its season around and making a World Series run. But a poor first few weeks have become an annual event for the Nationals. They started 6-10 last year and never managed to heat up, finishing the 60-game season 26-34. In 2018 — manager Davey Martinez’s first year with the club — the Nationals began 11-16 in an eventual 82-80 season.
Second baseman Josh Harrison signed with the Nationals midway through last season and returned to the club on a one-year deal over the offseason. He’s seen how the team responds to slow starts from both the outside and the inside. The veteran infielder doesn’t think his teammates are too worried about what the standings look like on April 13.
“Sometimes, people put a big emphasis on Game 1 of the season or Game 8,” Harrison said on a Zoom call Tuesday. “You want to get off to a good start but at the same time, I’ve been in a situation where getting off to a good start didn’t necessarily mean making the playoffs. This organization is a testament that getting off to a bad start doesn’t mean you can’t.
“I’m not saying that we want to start off 19-31; a 1-5 start is not ideal but at any given point throughout the season you can have a six-game stretch where you go 1-5 and it’s a matter of not getting caught up in that and taking each game for what it is.”
It’s far from an insurmountable deficit. The Nationals still have 155 games left to play over the next five and a half months before the postseason begins. Nevertheless, the last team to start 1-5 and make the playoffs was the Pittsburgh Pirates back in 2013. Two players from that team now reside in Washington: Jordy Mercer and Harrison.
Yet for now, all the Nationals can do is focus on the task at hand.
“We had a good win last night, we come in tonight with [Stephen Strasburg] on the mound and hopefully get the victory and you wanna win every series,” Harrison said. “You wanna take care of it before the third game. We just take it one day at a time. We know that it’s a marathon not a sprint.”