An important part of the Nationals’ run to the 2019 World Series has been their depth. During the season, Howie Kendrick, Asdrúbal Cabrera and Gerardo Parra were valuable substitutes for Ryan Zimmerman or other infield/outfield days off due to workload or a nagging injury.
That seamless transition for a game, a week or longer helped the Nats maintain their run of 82-40 since their four-game sweep at the hands of the Mets in late May.
In the postseason, outfielder Victor Robles went down with a sore hamstring in Game 2 of the National League Division Series in Los Angeles.
Veteran Michael A. Taylor was the “next man up” - as manager Davey Martinez has described the club’s mentality when looking to keep moving forward - as the sub for Robles.
Taylor, 28, has been known for his plus-plus defensive ability during his career. He also has made a name for himself with clutch home runs in the postseason.
His grand slam in Chicago in 2017 helped the Nats force a Game 4 in the NLDS. He also hit a three-run shot in Game 5 that season, finishing with eight RBIs in the postseason.
“I try my best in big situations to just breathe and relax and not try to win the game in one swing but just go up there and put together a good at-bat,” Taylor said of those big postseason-bats.
This season, he subbed in for Robles from Game 2 of the NLDS through Game 2 of the NL Championship Series, making five consecutive starts. In those five starts, Taylor hit .300 (6-for-20) with two runs, a homer, an RBI, a walk and a hit by pitch.
This was impressive for a player who played more games in Double-A (57) during the regular season than he did with the Nats (53 games). From July 1 to Sept. 2, Taylor played for the Harrisburg Senators of the Eastern League.
After getting sent down to Double-A in his sixth major league season, Taylor did not sulk or go through the motions. He went to work on lowering his rate of strikeouts and finding a way to extend his at-bats.
Brian Rupp, the Harrisburg hitting coach who also managed Taylor in 2012 with Single-A Potomac, said the outfielder took advantage of the change of scenery to work on his game.
“It was mostly just getting a fresh start,” Rupp said. “We didn’t change much mechanically. Trying to be more aggressive on his pitch earlier in counts and not worry about the bad swings.
“Mikey is a more mature player than 2012, elite defender, great baserunner and more consistent offensively.”
Taylor found pitches he liked and did not wait around while with Harrisburg, trimming his strikeout number from 34 to 27 from July through August. His on-base percentage went up from .319 to .358. His OPS jumped from .760 to .858.
“I know I’m a big leaguer, Taylor said. “Honestly, I just took that as an opportunity to go down and get everyday at-bats and get to a position at the plate where I wanted to be and get back to a form that I know I could play at. So it ended being a blessing to do that being able to play every day.”
In NLDS Game 5 in Los Angeles, Taylor made the diving ice-cream-cone catch in the bottom of the 10th to seal the elimination the Dodgers. His catch and display of the ball in shallow center field for all to see will be etched in the memories of Nats fans forever.
Then in Game 2 of the NLCS in St. Louis, he led off the top of the third with a solo homer to left field against Adam Wainwright, which opened the scoring and set the tone to keep the pressure on the Cardinals.
“I think the more you’re here, the more you get comfortable in these situations,” Taylor told reporters. “When the stadium gets loud and there’s a lot of pressure, you just try to slow it down and just play the game as normal as possible. That’s big.”
Taylor later had a misplay of a line drive by José Martínez in the eighth inning that turned into a run-scoring double. But that was the only run St. Louis would score in the Nats 3-1 win.
“No, it wasn’t a problem of seeing it,” Taylor told reporters. “I saw it off the bat. It’s just, the sound off the bat is a big part of your read. A lot of times, you can hear when they miss the barrel. So not being able to hear it, I had to go off of the swing.
“And the swing looked like he kind of just reached at it and poked it. Obviously, he’s a big man and has a lot of power, because even in that position he hit that ball and one-hopped the track. It was a tough read. You just learn from it and move on.”
Taylor was a sixth-round pick of the Nats in 2009. He worked his way up the system from low Single-A Hagerstown (2010-2011) to A Potomac (2012-2013). He was Player of the Year for the P-Nats in 2013. He made his big league debut in August 2014.
But as he embarks on his first Fall Classic on Tuesday, his thoughts are not of those first days with the Suns or P-Nats, but when he first started playing baseball as a kid in Florida.
“Honestly, I take it even further back than that,” Taylor said. “Just as a child, dreaming of playing in the big leagues and then watching the World Series every year thinking about, ‘Wow! That’s special.’ And now to be able to say that I played in the World Series. Definitely something that I don’t take for granted.”