There will be no celebration this time. No party, no unlikely postseason run, no parade. No forever.
It’s just 19-31. For the second time in as many years. The marker which denoted the Nationals’ 2019 nadir is back following a 7-3 loss Saturday night in Miami. The 2020 Nationals are 19-31 and going nowhere. They matched last year’s head-shaking record via many of the same hallmarks which brought them there in late May of 2019: sloppy defense, unfocused hitting and several missing parts.
“Just so you know, I really don’t like that number,” Davey Martinez said with a half-laugh. “It worked out last year. I’d rather be 31-19. But, hey, we got to keep battling. We’re going to keep it going here for the next 10 games and try to go 1-0 [Sunday].”
The team’s health won’t improve this year. There is no runway to exploit for a turnaround. Instead of being at risk of termination, Martinez is in the midst of contract extension negotiations.
Miami was also the opponent last year when the Nationals dipped to 19-31 after a wayward week in New York. The Marlins were a key elixir then. An unsightly Friday night win against them began the Nationals’ creep from their abyss. Hammering the Marlins all season -- the Nationals finished 15-4 against Miami -- became one of the reasons a wild-card berth was granted. Everything afterward was unlikely postseason history.
Saturday night, Patrick Corbin left frustrated. He botched a grounder back to him, then threw the baseball into the ground with enough force it bounced right back to his hand when time was out. The 13 hits he allowed in the loss raised his WHIP to the worst in the league, a ghastly 1.53. Opponents are hitting .306 against him. This is the worst season of his career. Martinez’s relentless positivity in messaging will not help turn this season around. He recently explained he has only good days, it’s just a matter of degrees when determining how good. This, in part, was his message to his team during the complicated circumstances of baseball in 2020. However, the Nationals did not navigate the situation well. Even when healthy, they played a subpar level of baseball. Their record by month -- 3-4, 9-16, 7-11 -- defines a season which never veered upward. Their longest winning streak is three. Their longest losing streak is seven.
Trea Turner mishandled a routine grounder Saturday. Carter Kieboom failed to execute a double-steal properly. Few metrics exist to assess a team’s baserunning ability. So, use this view from the manager: he is already formulating individual baserunning drills for next spring.
“You don’t have to be fast to be a good baserunner,” Martinez said Saturday in a subtle, but damning statement.
So, Martinez is stuck with familiar phrases beyond his motivational ones. The “little things” are back to be lamented. Processes to fix them are being developed. They didn’t have the time or chance to work them this year in a way they normally would. However, that’s true across the league. It’s the Nationals who are failing with 10 games remaining in the season. The oddball environment is universal. Their outcome is not.
They are not mathematically eliminated from the postseason yet. That is strictly a reflection of the pandering caused by the expanded postseason. Not the team’s ability. However, they are assured of their first losing record since 2011, the year before everything began to change.
The official end will come in the middle of next week when the Phillies mathematically send the Nationals home for good -- a reversal of last season. Reconstruction will begin in the offseason. The team will be younger next spring. It’s in for days filled with drills and reminders at West Palm Beach. And, they will be looking to avoid what has again become an annually troubling numerical combination, 19-31.