Rolling to the end of the year always prompts reflection.
Things are said along the way. Proclamations, reactions, takes on the pivotal moments that can age well or later prompt head shakes. With that in mind, let’s look back at some season-defining quotes from a middling 82-80 year for the Washington Nationals.
"For me, as I thought about it, the hump is every day. And I want them to embrace it, not fear it. And have fun with it." -- Davey Martinez
Never have camels been more maligned. Davey Martinez said he would use creative motivational tactics. He also directly charged at the Nationals’ multiple postseason failures. There was no tip-toeing around them. Bringing camels into spring training was among Martinez’s pursuits to loosen what was often seen as a stoic or stiff clubhouse. It also provided fodder once the season moved in a bad direction. Did camels at spring training have any influence on the season’s outcome? Of course not. It did show how far Martinez was willing to go for a jolt. It also reminded the No. 1 topic around this team remains its failure to move on in the playoffs.
“It’s a long season. We’re still feeling our way out. We have very capable men in this locker room that can do really amazing things. I’d rather be playing good in October and September than in April, to be honest with you.” -- Adam Eaton
This after a third consecutive loss dropped the Nationals to 4-3. A series sweep started things in Cincinnati. Rougher road emerged the rest of April when the Nationals went 11-16. The calendar, and many incorrect onlookers, suggested the team’s initial failings in the month were a blip as opposed to foreboding. A successful May was followed by three more months of sub-.500 baseball and a capsized season.
“When I got this job, on paper everything looked great. Starting lineup, pitching, then all of a sudden we get all these injuries. Weathering the storm, as we call it every day, it’s a grind. And this game is a grind. But, you know what? I love it and have fun doing it, and I’m passionate about it and like I said, I appreciate those boys in there doing what they’re doing because this could have fell apart a long time ago. It hasn’t and it won’t.” -- Davey Martinez
At this stage, Martinez felt much better than April. Washington went 20-7 in May, enough to vault it 11 games over .500 at one point and back to the top of the division. However, even in the lone month the Nationals’ rotation was in a groove, Martinez’s bullpen usage of his “big three” remained high. May’s push to undo April’s mess had residual effects later in the season, as well as publicly. Veteran relievers openly and privately commented on how much they were being used. How Martinez handled the bullpen in his first year as manager became one of the season’s biggest topics.
“I definitely think we can play a lot better in the second half and moving forward. I think winning games like tonight would be huge.” -- Trea Turner
The Nationals lost a one-run game -- this one 3-2 to Philadelphia -- to reach the season’s midpoint just three games over .500. They closed the month losing four of five, three of those games by one run. Inability to win tight games haunted them throughout the season. They ended up 16-24 in one-run games. By the time September hit, Washington was 12-21 in one-run games and all but eliminated from the postseason.
“I’ve been here since I was 17 years old. I’ve grown in front of these fans. Everyone who has a job here... That’s the security guard out front. The guy that works the parking lot. Those are the relationships you love. Those are the things that you see everyday. Those are the things that it’s all about.” -- Bryce Harper
Everything was forgotten for a night. Harper, dripping in patriotic odes from his bat to his shoes, rallied to win the Home Run Derby with an epic close. If the rest of the season was flat, this was a giddy meteor amid the misery. Harper had a moment with the fans, his teammates, and his father, Ron, all wrapped into one ebullient evening at Nationals Park. The night presented Harper unleashed, a state which had eluded him for several years as he toned down his maniacal play on the field as well as his public dispatches off it. One night of fun, simple as that.
“You’re not in the family.” -- Stephen Strasburg
This was Strasburg’s response to a reporter’s follow-up question the night Strasburg and Max Scherzer had a dugout argument. Clubhouse questions followed, as they do in underachieving seasons, and the Nationals’ overall vibe continued its fluctuating through the season. To see Strasburg and Scherzer -- owners of $385 million in salary -- have a public spat attached a visual snippet to what was becoming a moribund season.
“I think it tells the team that we believe in the squad we have. The 25 guys in that clubhouse, we felt all along have a chance to win this division. We’re the two-time defending champs. We’ve got the bull’s-eye on our back and the crown on our head, and until someone takes it away from us, we’re still the champs.” -- Mike Rizzo
They stood pat. For a couple weeks, anyway. The Nationals did not trade Harper -- which appears to be an error in retrospect -- gave the team one more shots as constituted, then failed to advance. It’s not often Rizzo is in between. He was here. Ownership desires, an incredibly tough team to read, along with suggestion Atlanta and Philadelphia could easily drop back to the pack delivered this stance. They didn’t push forward or fold the tent. The outcome from that decision left them wanting in several areas.
“We just have to keep grinding. We’ve got some really good players, some good hitters. We’ll score some runs. Our pitching we’ll get straightened out. Our bullpen is beat up a little bit, so if we start getting those guys back and healthy, things can happen. Things can happen fast.” -- Davey Martinez
The Nationals lost 4-2 in St. Louis. Seems plain enough. However, it dropped them under .500 and nine games out of first place. Jeremy Hellickson was also injured the same day. If a day felt like the end, this could well be tagged as it. Daniel Murphy was traded a week later. Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Madson were traded two weeks later. The Nationals never re-entered the race.
“Just keep doing Juan Soto things.” -- Juan Soto
Juan Soto’s elite season was also unexpected. He rocketed from Single-A Potomac to the major leagues, where he finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting. He also delivered this hilarious quote when asked how he came out of a semi-slump. Soto’s emergence was a surprise salve for the rest of the season’s ailments. He turned from awe-inspiring prospect to legitimate major-league hitter. Soto also put the Nationals in a different position when negotiating with Bryce Harper.
“Excited about the future. If I’m going to be part of that future, then hopefully I am, and if I’m in those plans for the Nationals organization and the Lerners, then we’ll see what happens.” -- Bryce Harper
The time everyone waited seven years for arrived. Team control of Harper was set to expire. He began to speak with reporters he knew about what’s next. During those conversations, Harper tactfully positioned himself by staying positive about the organization while suggesting his possible return was up to ownership. If he ends up elsewhere, don’t be surprised if he thanks the Nationals early in his first media availability.
“Bryce is a free agent. We’re in contact with he and his reps. He knows where we stand. He knows how we feel about him. Things should take care of themselves.” -- Mike Rizzo
An overview before Harper’s offseason really began. Rizzo, like Harper, did well to manage the proper semantics when speaking about relationships and futures. That was until another prominent Nationals source reached the airwaves.
“I don’t really expect him to come back at this point. I think they’ve decided to move on.” -- Principal managing owner Mark Lerner
Lerner’s comments on 106.7 The Fan roiled Harper’s free agency process. He, ostensibly, withdrew his team without forcing up the price for others. In public. The words were strange and caused Rizzo to unwind them to some degree during his future meetings with the media.
“I think when you’re in Bryce’s shoes, you have no way of really knowing how this is going to turn out. He has great regard for the organization, Washington fans, his teammates. There is certainly a potential where that [final] day could come. It could be his last day wearing that [Nationals] uniform. And there’s potential where it could go on for the eternity of his career.” -- Scott Boras
The closest anyone has been to hearing from Harper is when they listen to his agent, Scott Boras. He held another epic media round at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas which revealed little. With just a week remaining in 2018, Harper remains unsigned and appears all but done in Washington.
MORE NATIONALS NEWS:
- Dodges trade: Implications for where Bryce Harper goes
- Youth Movement: Nats getting younger, more athletic this offseason
- Pitching Power: How does Nats rotation stack up after adding Anibal Sanchez?