A fast start in 2021 imperative for Martinez and Nats

The Nationals had high expectations in 2018, hoping to put it all together for a shot at the postseason after 2017 ended in the National League Division Series against the Cubs. But the Nats ended up at just 82-80, eight games back of the Braves for the NL East crown.

There were some parallels to that disappointing ending to a campaign in 2020. The Nats were fresh off an incredible run to the 2019 World Series title as they got ready for an abbreviated 2020 regular season.

With most of that team returning, the Nats hoped to at least repeat with a playoff run and a chance to defend their title.

But a ton on injuries and delays to begin the 60 games, plus less than stellar play, got the Nats in a big hole. Even winning seven of their final nine games of the season, the Nats still finished three games out of the postseason and watched the Braves win the division again.

Manager Davey Martinez remembers the disappointment of that 2018 ending. He knew back then there were a lot of things the Nats needed to improve on to get back into the postseason.

But 2020 was so peculiar, frustrating and uncomfortable, Martinez said he wants to just focus on the positives and not dwell on what went wrong. He believes the best way to move on is to put 2020 in the rearview mirror and not second guess outcomes.

"Most definitely, especially this year," Martinez said. "We're only playing 60 games. Things being so scattered and then with all the injuries we had, I just want to make sure that I understand that there were some positives that came out of this. There was some growth that came out of the players. I want to take that and run with it and get ready for 2021."

Martinez said there was a lot that happened in 2020 that was not in the Nats' control. He repeatedly said that was not an excuse - every team had to deal with the same hardships and protocols. But he knows that his club will take what it can out of its 26-34 record and get ready for 2021. With a lot of key pieces returning, and hopefully players like Stephen Strasburg and Howie Kendrick returning to full health, the Nats have plenty to work with to be good again.

Thumbnail image for Davey-Martinez-frowns-sidebar.jpg"This year, there was some struggles, a lot of struggles off the field," Martinez said. "So when I go home now, I really need to focus on what I've seen that was good and just build from there. I talked to some of the guys and said, 'Hey, let's remember what we did 2019. Don't worry about what we did in 2020. There's no telling what would've happened in 162 games and know that we are going to come back stronger, better. We all learned from this and we are going to come back and compete and go 1-0 every day in 2021 and get back to the playoffs.' I want these guys not to dwell on the season, but yet to take it for what it is worth, go home, rest, learn from it and build from it, and then come back and be ready to go."

That is how shortstop Trea Turner looks at this season as well. He is not going to dwell on what could have or should have happened. Instead, Turner will wipe the slate clean and prepare to come to West Palm Beach ready to go in February.

"When you are a winning organization, I feel like there is only one good season and that's winning a World Series," Turner said. "There's only going to be one team this year that accomplished what they wanted and everyone else - fans and players - are going to be frustrated with how it ends up. We accomplished it last year, and for me, we just didn't accomplish it this year. It doesn't matter how bad we were or how far we made it. You either won or you didn't - and we didn't win.

"We won last year and we didn't win this year. For me, it's that simple. If you look into it more than that, I feel like you're just going to kind of kick yourself and worry about it. You just got to move on. It is what it is and next year is a whole different story for everybody, no matter who wins and who gets knocked out in the World Series or the first round. It's going to be a whole new year next year and we got to prepare for that and move on."

One thing that Martinez said he wants to emphasize is getting off to a good start in 2021. Starting 19-31 or 19-32 as the Nats have in the past two seasons is not going to be tolerated next year.

"We need to be ready," Martinez said. "My emphasis with these guys, I tell them, 'Hey, you got time to really get ready, get your body ready. When spring training rolls around we really need to be ready, physically ready, mentally ready to tackle spring training and get ready for that first game of opening day.' "

A good start is something the Nats have not enjoyed since 2017, when they started 21-9. Even in 2018, the Nats started 11-16 before reeling off six wins in a row and nine of 10. A fast start means guys need to be healthy and ready to go, not playing their way into a rhythm. A good start to 2021 is a major goal for Martinez as he prepares for what comes next.

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