Mike Rizzo said on Sunday that the final look back on the 60-game, 2020 COVID campaign will take place when they’ve played out the schedule, and do their “autopsy” on the season. But after a loss to Atlanta’s Braves on Sunday, the defending World Series champs had just a 3% chance of making it back to the postseason, by FiveThirtyEight’s projections, and the Nats were winding down what has been an injury-filled, ultimately disappointing defense of the first MLB championship by a D.C.-based club since 1924.
How did the GM and President of Baseball Operations, who signed a long-term (reportedly three-year) extension earlier this month, assess what’s gone wrong for third-year manager Davey Martinez’s ballclub this season?
“We see that there’s certain players that take to the start and stop of the season different than others,” Rizzo suggested.
“I think that you saw the successes that we had in 2019, of having a veteran-laden team that played together through the good times and the bad times. We navigated that 162 plus the playoffs very, very well. And I think you saw the start and stop adversely affect those same type of veteran players, because obviously it’s much more difficult for the veteran players to go through the Spring Training 1.0 and 2.0, if you will, the ramp-up, the quick ramp-up that they had to go through.”
Baseball shut down in mid-March, amid concerns over the growing coronavirus pandemic, and it didn’t start back up until July, when they began their three-week ramp-up to the 60-game season.
It was bound to cause issues for the players who decided to participate, rather than opt out, and build up quickly to the shortened season, and it did for a number of veterans.
“It’s a lot more difficult for those players than it is for those younger, 21-22-year-old players,” Rizzo said. “Nothing seems to affect them physically, those type of young guys.
“So, I think that had a lot to do with it, obviously injuries played a big part of what we’ve been doing throughout the season, and I think that our — the reason that we had to focus in on and rely on some of these young players at such a young part of their developmental career, was because the injuries and because of the uniqueness of this 60-game type of season.”
Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross opted out. Stephen Strasburg’s season ended with an injury. Sean Doolittle battled injuries and had his season (likely) end earlier this week. In all, a total of seven Nationals made their MLB debuts this season (alphabetically: Dakota Bacus; Ben Braymer; Wil Crowe; Kyle Finnegan; Luis García; Yadiel Hernandez; and Seth Romero).
Going forward with two weeks left in the 2020 campaign, Rizzo said, the Nationals will do what they can to win as many games as they can while assessing the talent in the majors now, and some others might come up down the stretch.
“We’re here to win games and that’s our goal is to win today’s game and win as many games as we can,” he explained.
“With that said,” Rizzo added, “... you’re going to see a steady diet of our young players and players that we’re committed to for the long-term, but with that said, we’re still trying to win baseball games, and each and every time out we’re expecting to win and disappointed when we lose.”
There will be some tough decisions to make when the games end for the 2020 campaign, and in such an odd season, it’s going to be difficult to assess what players did this season, but the Nationals’ GM said he thought they saw enough to make the decisions they’ll have to make when they start to build for 2021.
“I think we’re going to have a good feel for all of our players,” Rizzo said. “We’ve seen them play every day since February, so we feel that we’ll have a good handle on where they’re at health-wise, performance-wise, future performance, and that type of thing, so we feel confident that we’ll make the right decisions on those players, and I don’t think that there’s any reason with the COVID protocols and the shortened season that we didn’t get a good look at what type of players that we have.”
They also tried to take advantage of the 60-Player Pool for this season to keep some of their top prospects working down in Fredericksburg, VA so it wasn’t a lost year for the players the club didn’t bring to the majors.
“It’s a tool to utilize when we’ll have our coaching staff evaluate all the players down there,” Rizzo said. “It’s actually a good training ground, it’s more like playing instructional league games, a long instructional league if you will, but we thought it was vital to get some of our good prospects down there so they didn’t have kind of a wasted 3⁄4 of a season with no minor league baseball.
“I like the projection of a lot of those guys, they’ve performed really well, and I thought that this was really a vital use of our alternative facility.”
In the end, however, the reality, which the Nationals’ skipper confronted on Zoom this week is that a number of players who played significant roles in the World Series championship in 2019, and over the last few years, will move on after a season played in front of empty parks, with pumped in crowd noise.
“It’s one of the disappointing parts of the COVID season of 2020. So, but the players, they know how we feel about them here in D.C., they know how we feel about them in the front office and the coaches’ room, so I think that we’ll navigate that seamlessly, and I think that there will be a lot of good feelings towards the players, because we’ve been through a lot together and we’ve accomplished a massive amounts of achievements together.”
Before Friday’s game #Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez was asked if he’s considered the possibility that Howie Kendrick and Sean Doolittle, who played big roles in the #Nationals’ World Series win, might have played their last games with the club. We’re not crying. You’re crying: pic.twitter.com/Ur0aWrvGQE— federalbaseball (@federalbaseball) September 12, 2020