NEW YORK - On the heels of a crushing loss that saw their bullpen blow a late lead, the Nationals gathered everyone together inside the visitors’ clubhouse at Citi Field and held a team meeting. The message was simple: Even during these trying times, everyone needs to stick together. No finger-pointing. Get through this as a collective unit, not as individuals.
All of this happened before Wednesday’s crushing loss to the Mets. The Nationals were responding to Tuesday’s crushing loss to the Mets.
“What happens oftentimes when a season starts going this direction is different factions of the team, people start pointing fingers,” said Sean Doolittle, who turned a 1-0 lead into a 6-1 loss in the span of 12 pitches Wednesday. “That’s not happening. And that’s what the meeting was about: Continue grinding it out and being there for the guy next you.
“So in the context of having a meeting like that before the game, to go out and lay an egg ... that’s really, really frustrating.”
It also leaves the Nationals left to wonder what else they can possibly do to right a ship that has been taking on water for weeks and has shown few signs of getting back above sea level.
“I think we’re all looking at each other like: What in the world can we do?” right fielder Adam Eaton said. “How can we go in the right direction? How can we win some ballgames? How can we make the pitch when we need to? How can we get the big hit when we need to?”
For all the issues they’ve got, the Nationals are not lacking in effort. Nobody’s been scolded for not hustling. Nobody’s showing up late to the ballpark and just going through the motions.
“I feel like as athletes, professionals, whenever there’s something lacking or you’re struggling, that’s the first thing you look at: effort,” Eaton said. “But like we’ve discussed in the last weeks, effort’s not the problem.”
Maybe they’re trying too hard. Maybe the fear of losing in the big moment - a fear that, quite frankly, has hovered around this team since the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2012 National League Division Series - is superseding everything else.
How do you turn that around?
“When you face adversity, this is when you reveal yourself,” Max Scherzer said. “Whether you have the mental fortitude to come back, and you can block out all the negativity that’s probably going to surround us right now. You’ve got to come forward to the game with that positive attitude of knowing what you can control and that you have the right mindset that you’re going to go out there and compete, and compete at 100 percent.”
The Nationals have been dealt a season’s worth of kick-in-the-gut losses already. How do they keep dealing with it?
“I tell them all the time: This thing will turn around,” embattled manager Davey Martinez said. “It’s going to turn around. But we have to believe that it will. We have to will it. It’s time that we just believe that we’re good enough to play here. Cause we are.”
And yet, the Nationals enter today’s 12:10 p.m. series finale against the Mets with a 19-30 record that bests the National League worst Marlins’ 15-31 record by a scant 2 1/2 games.
It’s it hard to keep believing things will turn around when every single night this team finds a way to dig itself into an even deeper hole?
“You gotta keep it,” Martinez insisted. “Hey, we’ve got a lot of baseball left. That’s why we play 162 games. If you don’t believe that, then you’re in the wrong profession. I can tell you that right now. I believe every day. I come in every day knowing that we’re going to win a game. That’s it.”