It’s impossible to look at the Nationals’ record following tonight’s 7-3 loss in Miami and not feel something.
Yes, they’re now 19-31. That might make you laugh. It might make you cry. It might make you roll your eyes and wonder if the baseball gods have some kind of perverse sense of humor.
“Just so you know,” Davey Martinez interjected tonight in his postgame Zoom session with reporters, “I really don’t like that number. It worked out last year, but I’d rather be 31-19.”
Fair enough. Besides, the sheer coincidence that the 2020 Nationals have the same record through 50 games as the 2019 Nationals did before flipping the script on its head and making an historic run to a World Series title doesn’t really mean much in the big picture.
Last year’s team had 112 games to turn it around, not to mention a roster that was getting healthier. This year’s team has only 10 games left and a roster that is losing players to injuries, not getting them back, to make a miracle run that probably still wouldn’t be enough to squeak into the postseason as the National League’s 8-seed.
Here’s what matters more about 19-31: It ensures the Nationals will finish with their first losing record since 2011. Only the Yankees, Dodgers and Cardinals had longer streaks of winning seasons, and that was some pretty good company for the Nats to keep.
Not that we’ll ever look at the 2020 season the same way we look at any normal baseball season. These Nationals won’t be judged like any other defending champion that dropped below the .500 mark the following year, because of the unprecedented nature of this particular campaign.
But it’s nonetheless a harsh, tangible reminder of just how disappointing this year has been. Even at their worst moments over the last eight years, the Nats were still a winning ballclub. Not in 2020.
“I know guys have been working their butts off to go out there and try to win games and compete every day,” left-hander Patrick Corbin said. “It’s just been a tough season, I think, for everybody, not being able to do things that you’re normally able to do. And the way we’ve been playing, we’re obviously very frustrated with that. And I’m frustrated with how things have gone for myself, personally.”
Tonight’s ignominious loss came in rather mundane fashion, with Corbin giving up seven runs on a career-high 14 hits and his teammates unable to sustain offense against Pablo López and the Marlins pitching staff.
Corbin had an odd start. The left-hander struck out seven, didn’t walk anybody and induced 15 swings-and-misses. But he also gave up three more hits than in any other start in his career, two of them homers but many others opposite-field singles by a Miami lineup that did a good job just putting bat on ball.
“They came out swinging,” he said. “They didn’t miss any of my mistakes.”
Tonight may have been the most extreme example of it, but Corbin has been putting guys on base all season. With one start left on his docket, he’s now 2-6 with a 4.76 ERA and 1.53 WHIP (worst among the majors’ 45 qualifying starting pitchers).
The guys playing behind Corbin tonight didn’t help him much. They were charged with only one error (Trea Turner) but had several more plays not made (Turner, Carter Kieboom, Victor Robles, plus Corbin himself).
At the plate, they put together the makings of one rally against López, in the top of the fourth. Back-to-back quality plate appearances by Luis García (eight-pitch single) and Kieboom (eight-pitch walk) set up Andrew Stevenson’s two-run single up the middle and trimmed the Marlins’ lead to 3-2.
But with a chance to tie the game or even take the lead, the Nats gave away the inning on a double-steal attempt gone awry. Stevenson successfully swiped second, but a late-breaking Kieboom wasn’t able to make it home before second baseman Sean Rodríguez fired the ball back to catcher Chad Wallach, who applied an easy tag for the third out.
“When we do that play like that, the minute the catcher comes up to throw, (the runner on third) breaks,” Martinez said. “It’s one of those plays where you’re trying to steal a run. I wanted to do it on the first pitch, catch them off guard. And the catcher did exactly what I thought: He was going to just come up and throw to second. (Kieboom) should’ve broke right away. He just didn’t. He hesitated. He waited to see the ball in the air, and then he ran.”
Corbin immediately gave back both runs in the bottom of the inning, then two more before his night was complete. And the Nationals never seriously threatened to come back after that.
Which meant they walked off the field at the end of the evening owning a record that already has been forever imprinted in everyone who cares about this franchise’s mind. More importantly, they walked away owning a record that - unlike in 2019 - can’t be salvaged this time.
“We’ve got to keep battling,” Martinez said, because that’s all he can say at this point. “We’ve got to keep it going here for the next 10 games. Just try to go 1-0 tomorrow. That’s where we’re at right now.”