BALTIMORE – Games on the road at the end of last season were magical for the Nationals, who clinched the NLDS at Los Angeles, captured both games at St. Louis in the NLCS and, of course, prevailed in all four games in Houston en route to the World Series title.
But road warriors this year?
It has been more like “road weary” for the Nats, who begin a series on Monday in Atlanta against the Braves.
The Nationals could only come away with a four-game split in New York after winning the first two contests last week against the Mets.
Then on Friday, the Nats dropped the completion of the suspended game here in Baltimore and then lost the regular-scheduled contest Saturday night in a rare game in which the slider wasn’t breaking quite as sharp for lefty Patrick Corbin.
But it’s not just the road losses which have snake-bitten the Nationals in their first trek away from Navy Yard in this strange, 60-game season.
The COVID-19 protocol has been a challenge for Rob McDonald, the Vice President of Clubhouse Ops and Team Travel.
The Washington players and coaches took a train from D.C. to New York before heading to Atlanta for the three-game series with the Braves.
“It’s been a little weird,” Juan Soto said of the team’s first experience on the road during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We just try to keep everybody away, try to be social-distancing and all that kind of stuff. It’s been tough. We’ve just been traveling in the train.
“Now we’re going to see how we’re going to we travel in the plane. First plane ride we’re going to take today, right now, let’s see how it goes, but it’s been really weird.”
“I sat with Rob McDonald, and we talked a lot about our logistics, and how we want to travel and how we want to keep guys separated. So, hopefully, we came up with a good game plan,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez told reporters before the first road trip. “For me, this whole thing is about keeping everyone safe.”
On the field, some weird things have already happened on the road trip – like two pitchers getting thrown out of games while sitting in the stands.
It happened for the second time in less than a week here Sunday, as veteran right-hander Anibal Sanchez was tossed while sitting under a tent back of the third-base dugout of the Nationals at Camden Yards.
Martinez actually qualified after the game that Sánchez wasn’t ejected.
“Just to clarify, Sánchez didn’t get thrown out of a game,” Martinez said on Sunday. “He just got asked to leave the stands. So, he just had to leave, so that’s why I went over there to tell him, ‘Just go inside.’”
Also tossed was Washington hitting coach Kevin Long – as both took exception to the strike zone in the top of the second as Juan Soto was rung up by home-plate umpire Will Little.
It was on Thursday in New York that Stephen Strasburg, also sitting in the stands, was ejected after chirping with the home plate umpire with teammate Austin Voth on the mound for the Nationals.
Then there are the injuries that hit the Nationals like a Mike Tyson punch the past week.
Lefty reliever Sam Freeman went on the 10-day Injured List on Thursday and was later placed on the 60-day IL.
On Friday, veteran infielder Starlin Castro went on the 10-day IL after he broke his wrist.
The next day it was Strasburg, who went on the IL with carpal tunnel neuritis in his right hand a day after he failed to get through the bottom of the first against the Orioles.
Strasburg declined to take part in a Zoom call with reporters after his start in Baltimore. But his comments from earlier this summer may have been telling about his approach to this season.
“I mean, to be frank, this season is kind of a mess to begin with, so I got to think big picture here, and it’s my career,” he said July 25. “I know that in the long run, it’s important to try to make as many starts as you can, and by putting yourself in a compromising position now, I don’t really know if it’s the best way moving forward.”
Moving forward to Atlanta is the next challenge for the Nationals, who have already had plenty of injuries and intrigue on the current trip.
The Nationals were 8-11 last year against the Braves, including 5-5 in Atlanta.