Nats say it’s still early, but they should beware recent history

After losing a mid-June game in frustrating fashion and staring up at two teams in front of them in the standings for the first time, the Nationals manager insisted this was no time to panic.

“I don’t worry about that,” the skipper said. “It’s a little too early for me to start watching the scoreboard.”

After a different mid-June loss that left them hovering just over the .500 mark and firmly behind the division leaders, a Nationals veteran looked at the bright side.

“We’re in a good position,” the player said. “It’s not like we’re 10 games back with 10 to go. We’ve got plenty of time. It’s just a matter of going out there and playing well.”

That first quote could’ve come from Davey Martinez, and the second one could’ve come from one of several guys inside the current Nationals clubhouse. Here’s the problem: The first one was uttered by Davey Johnson on June 18, 2013, while the second one was said by Ian Desmond on June 12, 2015.

In each case, a Nationals club that entered the season as overwhelming favorites in the National League East was struggling but insisting it was much too early to worry about the big picture. And in each case, said club proceeded to fall too far behind over the course of the summer to be make games in late September meaningful.

Now listen to what was said following Friday night’s 12-2 loss to the Phillies, one that left the Nationals in third place in the NL East.

“For me, today was the first game where we really got blown out,” Martinez said. “That was a blowout. Everybody saw the game. So we’ve been playing really well. We’ve just got to keep our heads up and guys go home, get their rest and come back tomorrow and do it again.”

roark-players-uniform.jpg“It’s not even the All-Star break yet,” Tanner Roark added. “We’ll be fine. I’m confident in all these guys in here. Guys are coming back from injuries. Once we get it clicking, I think we’ll be OK.”

They may be right. There are 88 games remaining on the regular season schedule. There is plenty of time for the Nationals to get healthy, get hot and get back to what they were supposed to be all along.

But it would be foolish for anyone in that clubhouse to just assume all that will happen, because history has proven it’s no guarantee.

Are the 2018 Nationals the same as the 2013 or the 2015 versions of the Nationals? We don’t know the answer to that question yet. They might not be. But they might be.

Here’s what those two previous teams had in common: The insistence by everyone in uniform that everything would be OK when things most certainly were not OK in midseason. They kept waiting for fortunes to turn for the better ... and then before they knew it, it was too late.

Martinez was late to emerge from the clubhouse for his postgame press conference Friday night, the kind of delay that often comes because the manager was holding a closed-door team meeting. Martinez wouldn’t confirm that’s what happened, instead telling reporters it was better to just brush off this ugly loss and look ahead to the rest of the weekend.

Maybe the story will have changed by the time the team leaves town late Sunday night and hits the road for a six-game trip through Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. Maybe Bryce Harper will continue to improve now that he’s batting leadoff, and maybe Daniel Murphy will start to find his hitting stroke, and maybe the rotation will turn back into the dominant force it was not long ago and maybe the Nats will make up ground with the Braves.

If they don’t, though, the Nationals would be wise at that point to acknowledge things are not going as well as planned this season, and the time has come to start playing with more of a sense of urgency.

Yes, there’s still more season ahead of them than behind them. But as the 2013 and 2015 Nationals can attest, a season can turn late real quick while nobody was paying attention. Does this team really want to experience that again?

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