It’s really hard to believe what the season could have looked like on August 12th when the Nationals were a pitch away from a 3-0 shutout and a 61-57 record. Reliever Ryan Madson got himself in trouble closing out that ESPN Sunday Night game against the Cubs. The Nationals shutdown closer, Sean Doolittle, was on the disabled list. In the first half of the season, the Nationals bullpen only lost 10-games in the bullpen. Since then, the team has lost 12-games in the bullpen. Some think the Nationals fate changed on August 7th when Kelvin Herrera lost a game against the Braves. It would have pulled the Nationals to within 5.0 games of 1st place. In less than a week from August 7th to August 13th, the Nats lost 4-games in the bullpen. It included that Herrera loss, a Sammy Solis loss against the Cubs, the Madson loss against the Cubs on ESPN, and the next night in St. Louis a walk-off loss with Koda Glover on the mound. If the Nats won those 4-games, and that’s a big “if” they would have been 3-games out of 1st place on August 13th.
Losing Sean Doolittle to an injury in hindsight was probably the last nail in the Nationals coffin. In the near 60-days that Dooo was on the DL, the Nationals lost 10-games in the bullpen. By now given the way the Braves and Phillies have played or rather misplayed, the Nats had their chances to take over the NL East. From July 2nd until today, the Braves have been exactly at .500 baseball 30-30 from the 49-34 record they had at that point.
The Nationals recently have shown a lot of fight. Unfortunately, it’s too little too late to get the Nationals the NL East crown unless there was a monumental failure by the Braves and the Phillies. Since the main purging when Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams were “given away” on August 21st, the Nationals have won 6-times in games where their Fangraphs win expectancy was near zero. The Nats have come back and won games where they were left for dead at 5%, 6%, 9%, 10%, 12% and 13%. That 12% game was over the weekend against the Cubs. The Nationals have turned the table on the competition and putting losses on the other team’s bullpens.
All of this fight in this Nationals’ team has looked good for manager Dave Martinez who lost a lot of support among the fanbase with many calling for his head. He had the Nationals playing their best baseball of the season on Saturday in a doubleheader sweep against the team (Cubs) with the best record in the National League.
“Davey deserves a lot of credit for the way we’ve played when it would have been so easy — multiple times — for this team to pack it in,” Sean Doolittle said. “It’s been a tough kind of first year for a manager. Bad luck and bad timing on injuries. They came in bunches to one part of the team or another.”
Many of Davey Martinez’s players have come to his defense. Unfortunately, some of those injuries that Doolittle could have been referring to were undisclosed injuries — at least to the fanbase. We found out from Jon Heyman that Ryan Zimmerman was hurt in Spring Training, and there was most likely a residual effect that carried over through the regular season as Zimmerman batted .184 in April while stranding an incredulous 58-batters in that month. For all that went wrong, the month of May the Nationals got back to 1st place on May 30th.
Unfortunately in the month of June the Nats faded as Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez were horrendous from the beginning of June through the All-Star break. They were auto-losses in that span and at a time when the Nationals were missing Stephen Strasburg who was also on the DL. Gonzalez had a 6.51 ERA from June 1st to the All-Star break and Roark was a 7.38 ERA in that same period.
Maybe Davey Martinez and general manager Mike Rizzo were guilty of sticking with players who hurt the team worse while playing through ineffectiveness, dead arms, or undisclosed injuries. Bryce Harper during that same period of June 1st to the All-Star break batted .187 and had a .358 slugging.
“[Davey Martinez] is one of the best managers I’ve ever played for,” Harper said. “He’s got a heart that—I haven’t really played for a manager like this guy. I look forward to hopefully playing with him for the next 10 to 12 years.”
The Nationals failures were on the entire team, coaches, and the front office. While fingers get pointed all the time, it’s a team game, and the Nationals lost plenty of one-run games this season with 22 losses in 39 one-run games which is a .436 winning percentage .
— Talk Nats ⚾ (@TalkNats2) September 10, 2018
With ten of the Nationals nineteen games remaining against teams in playoff contention, the Nationals have a chance to play spoiler, but they also can show the baseball world that they have not rolled over and played dead.