Nationals manager Davey Martinez certainly thought the season was going to go much differently than it turned out. He never expected the Nats to be standing nine games out in the National League East at the start of play on Sept. 22.
When Martinez sat down in spring training and looked at the possibilities for his potent lineup, he was hoping for a much better result than 77-77 with nine days remaining. Still, the first-year skipper sees a lot of positives with this group for 2019 and beyond.
“When we started the season on paper, you write down the lineups, it didn’t happen,” Martinez said of the season. “But yet I saw a lot of guys mature throughout the season and saw a lot of positives come out of it. So moving forward, I think in 2019, we’re going to be really, really good. I really do. Watching these guys grow, watching them mature and play together as a unit, I think they understand now what it’s going to take move forward. I really do.”
The Braves appear headed for the division crown and the Phillies made a nice run. The Mets are rebuilding, but have played well against the Nationals. The Marlins are also in a full-on rebuild. So Martinez is well aware that it will be tough to rebound next season. But he has confidence that the Nats can change the result of this year and get back to what they were doing in 2016 and 2017.
“This division is not going to be easy. The Braves got better, the Phillies got better, we’re going to get way better. I know that,” Martinez said. “And we compete all year. With all the pieces that we’re missing throughout the year, we still competed. And I think they feel that way. At any given moment, (score) one or two runs (and) we win a lot of ballgames. I think these guys understand that now. I think they know what they have to do moving forward. And they still want to go out and win out the rest of these games, so I told them we got eight games. Let’s just play hard for eight more games and let’s make this fun. Let’s make this fun and finish up strong.”
So what went wrong?
The lineup was never really healthy and when the Nationals did finally get a lot of pieces back, Daniel Murphy was traded to Chicago. The starting pitching was solid in May, but never reached its potential or consistency. The bullpen was reworked a few times during the season and an injury to closer Sean Doolittle derailed the potency of the group. That’s just a few of the parts of the club that didn’t meet expectations set for the 154 games already played.
What are the elements of this season that stood out to Martinez?
“A lot of different things. One day it could have been the pitching,” Martinez said. “One day it could’ve been we didn’t get one extra hit. Multiple reasons. But you learn from it and you move on. And then you try to make those days better, those things better. It’s the little things that matter. And that’s something we’ll address this winter. That’s something we’ll address in spring training. The little things turn out to be big things. When you do little things, they become big things at the end. We’re going to focus a lot on that.”
But Martinez understands that the education that a lot of his young players received at the plate, on the mound and in the field will be important in 2019. Those high-leverage situations where the coaching staff decided to keep those players in the game and those pitchers had to figure out a way - and sometimes it didn’t work out - will pay dividends next season and in the seasons to come.
“I saw a lot of positive things come out of some guys,” Martinez said. “And (we) put guys in situations where they’re not accustomed to doing and saw some really positive things out of that. So moving forward with the guys we got, we know what we have. So we can make adjustments accordingly this summer.”
And to that end, Martinez said when the season is completed, that’s the time he will sit down with general manager Mike Rizzo and the Lerners to game plan for how they can get the Nats back to the top of the NL East.
“I know Rizzo and his staff, the ownership, they’re going to work diligently to make us better, as well,” Martinez said. “I know that. I know you guys know Riz really well. And I’m looking forward to sitting down with him and talking about different things that we’re going to try to do. But like I said, we want to finish this season really strong and worry about winning today.”