During the on-field presentation of the Warren C. Giles Trophy, once Washington had locked up their first National League pennant, the first thing Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo did was thank the scouts and player development people in the organization who helped build the team that earned a spot in the 2019 World Series.
“To all the scouts out there on the road working their butts off,” Rizzo said, “... and the player development guys, we don’t do this without you guys. We don’t do it without the support of ownership. We don’t do it without a great major league staff and minor league staff, and the manager was outstanding, but it’s all about the players.
“They’re the National League champs tonight, baby, here we come, the World Series, let’s go!”
Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez too pointed to the work that the advance scouts did in getting the Nationals’ starters ready for the series with the St. Louis Cardinals, since the results that the starters got pretty much decided the series, with some help from a big offensive inning in the first in Game 4.
“Yeah,” Martinez said, “our scouts have been on what we thought [were] the teams that would make the playoffs for over the last month or so, and they’ve done a great job with their advanced reports, and they passed it along to our analytical people and talking, and we then give the information to the players.
“[Pitching Coach] Paul Menhart, our analytical guy, is down here, too. We put together a pretty good game plan.”
“With that being said,” Martinez added, “... our starters have always been prepared all year long facing opponents, and they do a good job processing information and using it.”
“We have a great advance scouting staff,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies in his weekly interview on Thursday morning. “We’ve got two video advance men. We have a video advance scout who’s at the games physically, so we go through advance scouting on what our game plan is going to be, so we map it out. They sit there with the pitchers and the hitters and they go through their game plans.
“Then usually Paul Menhart, our pitching coach, Davey Martinez, and myself, we sit down and we discuss who’s available and who’s not, and then prior to each and every game, Davey and I meet privately and we go over what the specific plan is for today.”
The relationship between Rizzo and Martinez, even when things got bad this season, was a big factor in their success as well, according to both men, with the Nats’ skipper talking in his pre-game press conference with reporters before Game 4 with St. Louis about how the two of them have gone about preparing for the opposition throughout the last two years.
“I talk to Mike four or five times a day,” Martinez said. “Some conversations are good. Some are not so good, but we get along really, really good. I mean, super good. But he knows the kind of person I am, and I know the kind of person he is. We’ve had conversations before, and he always says, ‘Hey, you do you and do your thing, and I’m never going to tell you ever how to manage a game. I’m never going to tell you -- you know, I’ll give you my opinion,’ like he always does, and I listen, but from there on out, he lets me do what I do.
“I love that about him. I let him do what he does. Sometimes, like I said, he’ll come out and vent, and I’m okay with it. It’s part of it.
“There’s days after games where he sees a different side of me and I’ll vent a little bit, but it stays in that room between him and I.”
Working together, Rizzo explained, he and Martinez come up with a plan, discuss available options, and determine how everyone will be used, as they did with the pitching staff both in the Wild Card Game with Milwaukee, the NLDS with Los Angeles, and the four-game set with St. Louis.
Then the game starts and Martinez has to work things out.
“Obviously, it’s great to have a plan,” Rizzo told the Junkies of the work he and Martinez try to do going into each series and game, “and like [Mike] Tyson says, ‘Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth,’ and then you have to take it from there, so obviously the game is in Davey’s hands. He’s been masterful throughout the late season and playoffs in making the moves and that type of thing.
“But we have a distinct plan of who is pitching, what’s it going to look like it we get six out of [Stephen Strasburg] what do we do in the seventh, eighth, and ninth, if we get seven, if we get three, who are we going to the long man and that type of thing, and those starters in the relief roles were certainly mapped out, they were communicated to the player and to the pitcher, that, ‘No side day for you, your side day will be the eighth inning against Kolten Wong,’ you know what I mean? So that’s kind of the way we map it out, and Davey and I will leave that meeting right before the game starts and he’ll take that information and run with it, and obviously game-time situations change things very quickly, and he’s been great at it throughout this season and throughout these playoffs especially.”
But what about when the Nationals, who missed out on the postseason last year, fell to 19-31 in late May? Was Martinez’s job ever really in jeopardy?
Managing Principal Owner Mark Lerner told reporters before Game 4 of the NLCS that he’d never considered parting ways with Martinez.
“Obviously I wasn’t too happy,” Lerner said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“Nobody was. I couldn’t imagine what happened the rest of the season. I would have never believed where we are today. A turnaround like that only happens once in a blue moon, so I can’t say I totally expected it. I didn’t.”
“It never crossed my mind to dismiss Davey, no matter all the pressure that was put on us. I think he’s become a very, very good manager, and I think in the years to come, he will become a great manager. I have total confidence in him, and I’m delighted that all these good things are happening. Nobody deserves it more than him.”
Rizzo had faith in his manager, they did turn things around, going 74-38 the rest of they way and they fought their way through the NL Wild Card, Division, and Championship Series and earned a spot in the World Series, with Martinez at the helm, some players who were injured back in the lineup, and the starting pitching doing what they were expected to do when the rotation was assembled this winter.
“I think the trust factor was — he and I built this bond together,” Rizzo said of his manager.
“I really enjoy being around him. I trust him, I’ve got his back, and you have to evaluate the manager, and how can you evaluate the manager with the bullpen we had at the time, they were an underachieving bullpen, let’s face it. We had four of our regular eight players were on the [Injured] List at the same time, at one time, so I was asked the question many times, I’m, ‘We’re 50 games into this thing, how do you distinguish what kind of team we are when we haven’t had our team here yet?’ And Davey and I met countless times through this period.
“And I tell Davey all the time, I’ve been the GM of the Nats since 2009, been through a lot of trials and tribulations, and we have never had a better season as a front office and as a major league staff than we had this year. We had — when you talk about General Manager, we had to manage generally throughout this season more so than I ever had in my career. We made more in-season moves than we ever did, we tweaked this roster more than we ever did, and I think that I had to be out and about and in that clubhouse and talking to players and staff more than we ever had, because Davey and I did, we had to keep the team up, and again it’s a credit to Davey and his staff and the veteran players [for] keeping this thing afloat.”