Maybe 2019 will be the year the Washington Nationals finally break through and make it past the NLDS, who knows...
What we do know now is that 2018 won’t be the year. With a Nationals’ loss to the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves’ comeback win at home over the Philadelphia Phillies, the back-to-back, defending NL East champs in 2016-2017 were officially eliminated from the NL East race (and they’re on the brink of being officially out of the Wild Card race).
It was a foregone conclusion for a while now, but seeing the “E” in the Elimination# column of MLB’s standings is never easy, especially for a team that started the 2018 campaign with the message that NLDS appearances were no longer enough after four trips to the Division Series in six years and four first-round losses.
We’ll have all winter to ponder what went wrong, and the Nationals themselves are likely far along in that process already, but it still stings to have it happen.
Before the Braves wrapped up their win over the NL East’s second-place Phillies, who are now 6.0 games back in the race for the second Wild Card, and close to being out of the race in the East as well, Nationals’ outfielder Bryce Harper was asked what if any thought he’d given to the fact that he and his teammates were on the brink of elimination.
“We’ve got to win,” Harper said. “We control what we control and that’s winning ballgames. We haven’t done it the past two nights, and if the Braves if they win they’re going to win the division. It’s part of the game, that’s what happens. One team loses, one team wins, so, got a good Braves team over there that’s playing good baseball and it’s just part of sports.”
Davey Martinez was asked the same, and said he knew his team wouldn’t quit even after it was officially over, and talked about what he’ll be watching over the last games remaining on the schedule.
“We want to play every game to win,” Martinez said, “and the talk in the clubhouse as you see it again tonight, is that they want to win every game and they’re not going to quit. We could have had the tying run up today, and a chance to win the game again, we had the tying run up, so they’re not going to quit and I know they’re going to finish this out, and I love the way they’re playing, I really do, and we’ve just got to keep going. And like I said, I want to see some of these other guys pitch. Look, our bullpen today did really well, and I was really happy with all of them.
“[Tim] Collins coming in and getting the lefties out, [Jimmy] Cordero coming in and keeping the ball down which we’ve been harping on with him, and mixing his pitches, and [Austen] Williams coming in and getting some big outs, so I was proud with all those guys.”
There’s no getting around just how disappointing things have turned out, however, or the fact that the team is going to look significantly different next season whether Harper is in the nation’s capital or not.
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo has publicly stated that Martinez has his support and is likely to return. What about Martinez’s coaching staff? Will there be changes there? Will the Nats spend big on free agents to fill they holes they identify (which are fairly obvious)? Will a trade or two or three put them back in contention in 2019?
Enjoy the remaining games if you’re able to, because you won’t have any more Nationals baseball in 2018 after next Sunday.