WASHINGTON -- A number hanging over the tenuous 60-game season is 2.7. Each game is worth 2.7 times as much as it would be in a 162-game season. Which means amplification never before seen in Major League Baseball.
Slump for two weeks? That could be it for your average in 2020. Have a bad relief appearance? Your ERA is toast.
Team-wise, a five-game losing streak is the equivalent of a 14-game losing streak. That’s barely a bad week. But, when the season is just more than two months, each day carries new significance. And, the start is paramount.
The Nationals open July 23 at home against the New York Yankees and Gerrit Cole. Three games with the Yankees are followed by back-to-back two-game series with Toronto. The Nationals venture to Miami for three games to close the first full week.
“I think we all know that from Day One games are going to be important,” Yan Gomes said. “But also we all know that one of the last pitchers we faced last year was Gerrit Cole and I think we want to ride that confidence we got with him last [year]. Even though it’s a whole new ball game -- it’s a whole new season. Everyone is doing as much as they can right now, ramping it up and really getting game ready because we know it’s going to be a short season. We can’t really do the whole 19-31 and make it a story again. I think the story is going to be on the other end.”
Washington’s longest 2019 losing streak is an easy one to remember. It lost five in a row from May 19-23. Four of those losses came during the debacle in Flushing against the Mets, leading to the 19-31 no one can forget and everyone knows is a guaranteed baseball crash this year.
“First and foremost that’s good coaching by Yan,” Davey Martinez joked. “We cannot go 19-31. For me, it’s just do the little things. We’ve got to get 27 quick outs. We’ve got to get guys over from second base when we have to. At the end of the day, scoring one more run than the other team.
“Every game in a 60-game season, you start off kind of in a playoff run.”
Nine full series populate August. Four of them are against the Orioles or Marlins (12 of the 28 games total). The Mets, Braves, Phillies and Red Sox fill out the rest of the month. The Nationals have an off-day Aug. 20. They will be almost halfway through the season by then, less than a month after it started. The strange trade deadline occurs at the end of the month.
The brevity of the season and subsequent weight of games brings another layer of challenges. If a mediocre -- or worse -- team has a bad opening week, will that prompt more opt-outs? Will it be easier for teams to go from rut to abyss? Does that have a chance of under-mining the competitiveness of an already dubious season setup?
If the Nationals win the World Series, are they back-to-back champions? If not, are they still really the “true” champion? It’s apparent how local viewpoints will go on that topic.
But, that argument will only come up if they start well and make it into the playoffs. Go 3-10 across two weeks? That’s 9-27. It’s over. Better be ready from the jump.
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