The cruelty of baseball and Wednesday’s divergence after the 60th game

On June 4 of 2019 and 2024, the Washington Nationals had identical 27-33 records on the 60th game. Two very different teams with little shared DNA. The 2019 team had a hopeful Patrick Corbin, and the 2024 team has a Corbin that most fans hope would leave. Trevor Williams, on the other hand, has been looking like an All-Star this season until the cruelty of the game placed him on the 15-day IL with a forearm strain before the start of the 60th game.

On Sunday, these two versions of Nationals’ teams from 2019 and 2024 seemed to be on the same path, but just a few days later, they appear to be on divergent bumpy roads. How quickly things change. In 2019, the Mets swept the Nats from May 20-23, and now the 2024 Nats were swept by the Mets. The 2019 Nats were 19-31 on May 23 and the next day found their identity and never looked back. These 2024 Nats might be looking back to see what they may have had.

Manager Dave Martinez never lost his clubhouse in 2019, even when they hit rock bottom on May 23 of that season. But now we have to wonder about this 2024 team. News broke that young shortstop, CJ Abrams, left the clubhouse last night and refused to talk to the media. In my mind, that should not have been a big deal. This happens — and writers do not have to disclose these details to the public. It was a choice. And now, here it is.

This team has not played as bad as that 2019 did in May of that season where they were riding the rollercoaster of ineptitude. Our 2024 team does not have the All-Star talent of that 2019 team with future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer, and future World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, or the Face of the Franchise Ryan Zimmerman. But this 2024 team has some upstarts who are proving themselves to be really good players with Abrams being just one of them.

We have been saying for a while that change is needed. General Manager Mike Rizzo’s idea of change started in the right direction with moving on from Victor Robles, but he kept veteran Eddie Rosario who often has been fingered as a player with a hustle issue. Instead, they demoted catcher Riley Adams to the minor leagues as the only move of the week.

Also, no new arms to help in the bullpen that had to use Derek Law for three innings on Tuesday to save the bullpen after Jordan Weems covered two innings on Monday to save the bullpen. The crazy part, Weems covered two innings yesterday afternoon in which he just logged four innings and 59 pitches in less than 48 hours — the most in his career as a reliever. The last time Law went 3.0 innings or more was back in 2018. That was his role back then to go more than one inning, and he got plenty of rest after that three inning appearance.

There could be changes coming today since the bullpen might very well be down Weems and Law. At the very least, the team really needs a long-man in the bullpen. You hope Weems and Law’s arms are okay. That is a lot to ask these relievers to carry this workload when their arms are not used to it. Most teams have a long-man. This team does not. Tanner Rainey was the mop-up man, and he logged one inning of work on Monday and Wednesday. The Nats could have pitched a position player down by a 9-0 score. They did not.

Once again, Corbin failed his team in 2024. His ERA shot back over a 6.00 ERA after he was pulled at 5 1/3 innings and six earnies on his statline and a 6-0 deficit. The bullpen needed a break, and the team really needed a W. They would not get either. In the postgame presser, Martinez was back to making excuses for Corbin who gave up three home runs. Where is the accountability?

“Look, he’s been keeping us in games. He’s the one guy that we always count on when things go awry, that he’s going to give us six innings. Give our bullpen a break. He pitches good enough, and we don’t score runs. We’ve got to get him some run support. He’ll be fine. But we’ll see what happens here in the next few weeks. We’re still not quite there. We’re not quite healthy enough. We’ll see what happens.”

–Martinez said about Corbin last night

How can Martinez say all of that with a straight face? Corbin has thrown seven duds in his 13 games so far, and is 1-7 overall. Run support would be nice for all pitchers, but it rarely saves you when you give up five or six runs in a game. He’s averaged just 5.5 innings per start — mostly because they let him pitch longer in games that are already out of reach. If anything, Corbin’s defense kept the game closer than it should have been on Wednesday. Hard contact saw a 116.3 mph liner get caught by his centerfielder, Jacob Young, who saved Corbin from more trouble. Yes, trouble. That is what we have here.

Can Martinez keep his team together? Where do they go from here. On Sunday, this team was 1.0 game from the Wild Card after they beat the Cleveland Guardians. But the sweep by the Mets certainly has changed a lot, and Martinez and Rizzo are at a point at that fork in a road.

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