Before Wednesday night’s loss left them eleven games under .500, 9.0 games out of first in the NL East, with losses in four straight, seven of 10 overall and 14 of 21 in the month of May, the Washington Nationals held a team meeting in Flushing, Queens, NY’s Citi Field.
The message of the meeting?
“I think the biggest thing is continuing to have each other’s backs,” Nationals’ closer Sean Doolittle explained, “... and what happens so often times when a season starts going this direction is, you know, different factions of the team, people start pointing fingers, and it’s more important — that’s not happening — and that’s what the meeting was about, is continue grinding it out and being there for the guy next you.”
It was Doolittle, the only really reliable member of the Nationals’ beleaguered bullpen this season, who blew up in the 6-1 loss on Wednesday night, coming on with two on and two out in a 1-0 game in the eighth and hitting a batter before surrendering a base-clearing double and a three-run home run.
Second-year skipper Davey Martinez told reporters after the loss that turning things around started with believing in the fact that you could, in fact, do it.
“I tell them all the time,” the manager explained, “‘Hey, this thing will turn around. It’s going to turn around, but we have to believe that it will. We’ve got to will it. And it’s time that we just believe that we’re good enough to play here, because we are, and we’ve got to make it happen. We’ve got to make things happen and stay strong, stay together, stay strong, pull for your teammates, and this thing will turn around.”
How do you keep believing things will turn around and keep hope alive as things continue to go wrong?
“You’ve got to keep it,” Martinez said. “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. I mean that’s it.”
“I feel like as athletes, as professionals, whenever there is something lacking or you’re struggling, that’s the first thing you look at, is effort,” right fielder Adam Eaton said.
“But like we’ve discussed in the last weeks, effort’s not the problem. So we’re all looking at each other like, ‘What in the world can we do?’ 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? And it might be one of those things where we’re putting a lot of pressure on ourselves because I think all of us do work hard in here and we do come ready to play every single day and we are prepared to the fullest, and we expect a lot and when it doesn’t happen, it’s difficult.”
Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer, whose solid outing was wasted when the Nationals blew the 1-0 lead in the eighth on Wednesday, said it was important that the team buckle down, avoid the negativity around them, and keep grinding as they try to fight their way back into the race in the NL East.
“When you face adversity,” the three-time Cy Young award-winner said, “... this is when you reveal yourself, whether you have the mental fortitude to come back and know that 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, knowing that you have the right mindset that you’re going to go out there and compete and compete at 100%. You have to think of all the little things you can do, and for me that’s really what I’ve been focused on in kind of the past handful of turns in the rotation, of all the little things that I can do to make sure that I’m executing pitches and make sure that I’m throwing the ball the way I want to.
“It just takes an individual approach when you have adversity.”
After they were swept with a sloppy loss in the series finale in Citi Field left the Nationals 12 games under .500, with a five-game losing streak, and losses in 15 of 22 games this month.
Down 3-1 after six, the Nationals rallied to score three in the top of the eighth with both Yan Gomes and Gerardo Parra driving in runs to make it a 4-3 game, but Wander Suero gave up a three-run home run by Carlos Gómez in the bottom of the inning which put the Mets back on top, 6-4.
“We battled back again,” Martinez said after the latest late-inning loss, “... and Suero was in there, I like Suero in that spot, and he had two strikes on Carlos and didn’t get the ball up. I know they were trying to to go up there with two strikes, and threw him a pitch where he could hit it and he hit it pretty good.”
To get close to the 90-win threshold that they’ll likely have to reach to have a chance to win the division, the Nationals, who were 19-31 after the loss, the team will have to go 71-41 over the final 112 games (a .634 winning percentage for a team with a .380 win% right now).
What makes Martinez confident that’s possible?
“Why couldn’t it be?” he asked rhetorically. “I’ve seen other teams do it. We’re not out of it, that’s for sure, I can tell you that right now. Like I said, every day we’re close, we compete, we’re in every game, now we’ve just got to finish games.”
“We’ve got to find a guy in that seventh and eighth to get the ball to Doolittle,” he added.
“That’s the bottom line. In my mind, in my heart, I know we have the guys to do it, they’ve just got to finish it. Like I said, Suero got two outs and just threw one bad pitch again, another home run ahead in the count. That can’t happen, it can’t happen in those big moments like that. But like I said, we’ve got guys in the bullpen that I feel are adequate to do the job, they’ve got to do the job.”
“Things are going to change,” Martinez continued. “Things are going to change. And I know that. So we’ve just got to keep pounding away, keep playing baseball, there’s good players in that clubhouse, really good players, and we’ll turn things around.”