Today was supposed to be an exhibition game at Nationals Park!

An empty stadium this week. Homeplate gate at Nationals Park; Photo by Sol Tucker for TalkNats

The MLB baseball schedule halted at 4 pm EDT on March 12th in what could only be described as an unnatural disaster with the Coronavirus becoming a global pandemic. There has been no baseball since, and the future of the 2020 season is a complete unknown at this point. These are the unthinkable catastrophes much like 9-11-2001 was when baseball was halted. The best laid plans are no match for a terrorist attack or a killer virus. Today was supposed to be a Washington Nationals home exhibition game scheduled for 4:05 p.m. against the “Nationals Futures.” In two days was the scheduled Opening Day festivities and game on March 26 in New York City against the Mets at Citi Field. Next week was described as “Championship Week” with the home opener in Nationals Park and the World Series banner unfurled. The players were going to be receiving their World Series rings in a ceremony and there were other championship events scheduled.

“We are aware of the recommendations issued by the D.C. Department of Health,” a spokesperson said two weeks ago. “We are in contact with MLB and the City [government] …. As decisions are made, we will notify all impacted parties.”

There were supposed to be milestones set during this season based on accomplishments and tenure. For instance, Juan Soto was looking to shatter the mark set by Mel Ott to reach 100 home runs at the youngest age. Ott did it at 22 years, 132 days old, and Soto needs 44 home runs this season to smash that record. What about Mr. Walkoff, Ryan Zimmerman, who is two home runs from tying Jim Thome‘s record 13 walkoffs, and one from tying Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx, Stan Musial and Frank Robinson share at 12.

“You can’t try to do too much,” Zimmerman said if you swing for the fences. “The second you try to do stuff like that, it doesn’t happen. Those [pitchers] are supposed to get you out. … So I think that kind of puts the pressure on all of them. They’re supposed to get me out.”

Zimmerman’s last walkoff home run was on August 22, 2018, against the Phillies. Every player ahead of Zim on that list is a Hall of Famer. The issue with this season in question is players like Zimmerman and Max Scherzer are playing against a clock that keeps ticking towards their next birthdays. “Father Time remains undefeated” as they say in sports. Scherzer turns 36 in July, and he is just 30-wins from 200 in his career. That milestone is a goal for Scherzer. His contract was set to expire after the 2021 season. But what happens to free agent contracts if there is no season played this year? As much as everyone loves Max, the Nationals do not want to pay him $30 million a year for a 2022 season when he turns 38 years old.

A Washington Nationals record looked easily reachable for manager Dave Martinez. Once he manages his 87th game, he will be the longest tenured coach in Washington Nationals history. The owner of the team record is Manny Acta who lasted just over 2 ½ seasons and 410 games with a .385 winning percentage. In Acta’s defense, he was in a no-win situation. He was merely a placeholder in the building process as part of the former team president, Stan Kasten’s “plan” to build up the farm system to win down the road. The recipients of the good fortune have been every manager after Jim Riggleman. With good fortune, Martinez could be the guy who becomes a fixture at the helm. He is the same guy so many wanted fired and now want extended. Ironic, isn’t it?

This year, the goals are the same — to win a World Series, and the Nationals will face an uphill climb once again in more ways than one. In almost every preseason ranking, they are a mid-80’s win team, and that was part of the plans for a full 162 game schedule which now seems improbable. In some projections, the Nats are seen as a Wild Card contender, and in Fangraphs, they are in a virtual tie for first place with the Mets in the NL East. We will hopefully play the games and see who wins it. You have to get there first. But now the reality is so blurred that we don’t even know if we will have 80 games to play in this season.

“Especially with a shortened season, I think the teams that get off to a fairly quick start are going to benefit,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said. “I want these guys to understand: When this season starts, we’ve got to be in like June 1 form. ‘Hey, it’s go time.’ And we’re going to prepare for that.”

All part of the best laid plans of mice and men.

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