I had someone ask me the other day, “How do you keep watching the Nationals when they’re losing so many games?”
Aside from it being my job, my answer was easy: They’re always in it.
You’ve heard manager Davey Martinez say it time and time again: “The boys are battling.” Well, what does that mean exactly, aside from the obvious definition of playing hard?
“Yeah, I mean, it’s something that I preach every day with these guys that they’re never really out of it,” Martinez said during his pregame Zoom session with reporters on Saturday afternoon. “That we got to play the game no matter what. Down five, up five, you got to play 27 outs every single day. And they believe that and they go out there and they give you everything they got for 27 outs.”
The boys, indeed, are battling. Yes, the Nationals are losing more games than we are accustomed to seeing as they now have clinched back-to-back losing records for the first time since the 2010-11 seasons. A quick glance at the boxscores would show that.
But a closer look would show that the Nationals, far more often than not, are very close to winning a lot of these games. It seems like if they could get one or two more bounces to go their way, their 58-84 record would look vastly different.
“It’s part of the game. We always think that,” Martinez said of the unfortunate bounces that sometimes hit his club. “I know a lot of times, and I talked to guys where they hit four or five line drives in a row and they don’t get no hits, and I always reiterate, ‘Hey, it’s a funny game.’ I say, ‘You might go up tomorrow and bloop a hit over the second baseman’s head after hitting balls 110 miles an hour for three straight days.’ But that’s the way the game goes. So we got to keep battling every day. Like I said, for me, don’t worry about the outcome. All you can do is hit it, all you can do is try to throw strikes and work ahead. The outcome will be there, just keep working on the process and keep playing hard.”
In 42 one-run games, the Nats are 20-22. They have only played 30 blowout games (scores with a run differential of five or more), in which they are 13-17.
They have held the lead in each of their last 13 games. And have been tied or leading after the fifth inning in each of those games as well. There was a stretch of six straight games in those 13 in which the Nats trailed and came back to at least tie the game.
They went 3-10 in those games.
“Of course, we would love to win these games we’re losing by one,” Martinez said. “But it’s been a lot of fun watching them. And I’ve learned a lot about each individual and their character. And like I said, every day I tell them, I say, ‘Hey, I appreciate you guys going out there and playing the game, playing hard. You’re learning as we’re going along. But you guys continue to play hard. The wins will come. We got to stick to the process.’ But I really like the way they’re going about their business and the way they’re playing. And their work ethic before the games has been really, really good. And they’re learning, they’re learning a lot.”
Martinez humbly tries to hide his competitiveness in any given session with reporters. But we all know it’s there (see Game 6 of the 2019 World Series or a game in Chicago against the Cubs earlier this season).
So is it more frustrating for Martinez as a competitor to see his team lose all of these games or is it more encouraging as a manager and a teacher to see his young players battle and stay in games every day?
“You know, for me, it’s a little bit of both,” Martinez said. “Because I want these guys to feel that all their work is paying off and that we do end up on top. And it’s frustrating because I know how much the kids care. And they know how much I care about the game and how much I care about winning. I reiterate every day that losing is no fun. Nobody wants to lose. But we got to keep building ourselves, building together, staying strong. When things are bad, we got to stay strong and fight through all this stuff. And like I said, things will turn around.
“But you know, being around these guys, like I said, they’ve taught me a lot about them and their character. And I love what I’m seeing, I really am. So the future for us is going to be bright. I know that. We had a chance to give these guys an opportunity to play. They’re taking advantage of it. And like I said, they’re learning along the way and they’re gonna get better and they’re gonna help us win a lot of games in the future.”
It’s easy to look at boxscores and see that the Nationals are losing games. And it may be hard to keep watching them while expecting them to continue that trend.
But there’s a good chance that trend could reverse course. After this series against the Pirates ends today, only two of the Nats’ remaining six series come against teams in playoff contention: the Reds and the Red Sox. Home and away series against the Marlins and Rockies provide a good chance to win some games.
Give these guys a chance. It might not always be pretty and the results may not always be there. But these players battle, give themselves at least a chance to win and gain valuable experience every night.
For now, that’s all you can ask of them.