Lessons learned in a long season; The parallels of 2019 to 2021

There are many lessons learned in a marathon baseball season. Lesson No. 1 is that slow and steady usually wins the race. Of course you need talent and everyone rowing in the same direction to win enough games to get into the winner’s circle, but those who over-react early in a season are usually proven wrong.

The key early decision for this 2021 team was to move Starlin Castro to third base, insert Josh Harrison at second base, and demote Carter Kieboom to the minors. The debate, here and elsewhere, was that Castro would never accept the move to third base. It was another false narrative built up elsewhere by a writer who projected their own thoughts as if they know the inner workings of the front office. That move proved to be a difference in the way general manager Mike Rizzo approached his Opening Day roster and a divergence from doubling down on a previous bad decision.

Of course the start to the Washington Nationals 2021 season started off with a COVID disaster that delayed their start to the season, and changed the entire roster. Kieboom in an odd twist would make the roster, but was sent back to the minors as players came off of the COVID IL list. Kieboom got all of two plate appearances for the team during his short stint on the roster.

Just like the 2019 team, this 2021 roster is dealing with real injuries to star players. That 2019 team was without Trea Turner who had broken fingers, and this team is without Juan Soto and Stephen Strasburg who are both dealing with shoulder inflammation.

At this same point in that 2019 and this 2021 season, Max Scherzer took the rock, trying to lead his team from identical 11-12 records to .500. In both games, the team only scored 3-runs. The difference was that in 2019, the bullpen gave up 2-runs and the Nats lost that game. That bullpen was horrendous until the trade deadline. Trevor Rosenthal stayed on the roster until June 23rd of that season. Rizzo seemed to hang on to expensive contracts too long. It is part of his ongoing modus operandi, but to his defense, he has rarely made bad long-term decisions on expensive contracts. He seems more comfortable with cutting a minimum salaried player like Kieboom, than he did with a $7 million deal like he had with Rosey.

This year, the bullpen has been a bright spot where the team is missing key setup man Will Harris who has been on the IL for the entire season so far, but they are getting great production from the back end of the bullpen with Daniel Hudson and Brad Hand. The middle of the bullpen lost Wander Suero to the IL, and lefty specialist Luis Avilan for the entire season to a torn UCL. Key offseason acquisitions of young players have filled in spots to help solidify the depth.

The early reaction to this 2021 team was that the starting rotation was awful. The first 10 games had half the games as blowup starts, and in three others, the offense was shutout. The season started at 1-5 with the only win as the Opening Day walk-off by Soto. Since then, the starters are pitching much better with a combined 2.59 ERA.

Maybe the best news has been that no team ran away with the NL East which allowed the Nats to figure it out and take the top spot in the division, albeit in a tie.

Each season is unique from other seasons, but patterns often come to the surface. Tried and true proven ways are often repeated, but not always with the same end results. The process is the key. This is why it is difficult to repeat success when you deal with the human element. We will see how this season goes for the Washington Nationals. With 138 more games in the regular season, we can only hope that the Curly W is on top of those standings when those 138 games are completed.

 

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