Coming off a four-game sweep at the hands of the New York Mets in Citi Field, the Nationals were 12 games under .500 at 19-31.
Only eight teams in major league history had fallen that far under .500 and made it to the postseason.
Talking to reporters after the loss that day in his office in the visitor’s clubhouse in New York, manager Davey Martinez was defiant.
“It’s the third week of May,” one reporter noted, “and to get to 90 wins you guys need to play about .630 baseball the rest of the way, 90 wins is probably going to be the playoff threshold, something close to that.
“What makes you think that that’s feasible for this team after the first seven weeks of the season?”
“Why couldn’t it be?” Martinez asked in return.
“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.”
Asked how comfortable he was that he would be kept in his position given that the team did not make it to the postseason in 2018 and had dug a hole for themselves early this season, a confident Martinez said that he knew things would turn around.
“Things are going to change,” he stated. “Thing 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.”
Since that day, and heading into the regular season finale on Sunday, the Nationals were 73-38, a .658 winning percentage. Earlier this week, they became the ninth team in MLB history to make the postseason after falling 12 games under .500 during the season when they beat the Philadelphia Phillies last week, and in doing so, clinched one of two spots in the NL Wild Card Game.
In an on-field interview with MASN’s Alex Chappell, Martinez said he believed in his club and their ability to get to the postseason from Day 1, even when things were at their worst, back in May.
“I can remember having a conversation May 24th in my office, and I said this team will turn around. And look where we’re at today,” the Nats’ second-year skipper said.
“What these guys went through all year, man it’s unbelievable. It really is. I’m proud of every one of them and it’s not over, we’re not over. We’re going to stay in it. We’re going to stay in the fight. We’re going to stay in the fight.”
The fight continues tomorrow night. The Nationals earned the right to play one more game to decide who moves on the NLDS. Milwaukee’s Brewers will be in D.C. on Tuesday night to decide who’s moving on to the Division Series.
“Every year in Spring Training 30 teams set out to get in the postseason and that’s the goal when you leave Spring Training,” Martinez said after Sunday’s game.
“No matter how you start the objective is to get to the postseason. The boys did that. And we can all sit here and say it was ugly in the beginning, but they stepped up and endured a lot and we’re going to the postseason.”
With sweeps of the Phillies, in a five-game set, and the Indians, in three straight, the Nats are going strong heading into Tuesday night’s game.
“They’re playing really well, every one of them,” Martinez told reporters.
“We mixed our lineup up here and there and every guy has contributed, so let’s just keep it going. We’ve got a day off tomorrow, big media day for everybody, but let’s just relax and concentrate on Tuesday, going 1-0.”