WASHINGTON - This team in the DMV – after winning the World Series – decided to stick with several of the veterans who won them a ring.
So the next year, this team to start the season had a regular catcher in his mid-30s, a key outfielder and second baseman in their 30s and two starting pitchers in their 30s.
The Orioles, instead of making a push for youth, brought back veterans such as catcher and World Series MVP Rick Dempsey (34), outfielders Jim Dwyer (34) and Dan Ford (31), and third baseman Wayne Gross (32).
The Nationals did some similar things – with a worse outcome at least in terms of a win-loss record.
The Orioles, after winning 98 games in 1983, slipped to a mark of 85-77 the next season and finished 19 games back of the first-place Detroit Tigers – who eventually won the World Series.
Perhaps that is good karma for the Atlanta Braves, aiming for a third straight title in the National League East.
The Nationals were 20-32 going into a home game Monday with the Phillies.
And as for Stephen Strasburg, the MVP of the 2019 World Series? While Dempsey saw his average drop one point in 1984 (to .230), Strasburg pitched in just two games this season and is done for the year with a right wrist carpal tunnel neuritis.
Washington entered spring training this year with key veterans such as catchers Kurt Suzuki (age 36) and Yan Gomes (32), sometimes second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera (34), right fielder Adam Eaton (31), and starting pitchers Max Scherzer (who turned 36 in July) and Anibal Sanchez, also now 36.
There may be some other common factors.
The Orioles’ farm system had dropped off by the mid-1980s from the glory days of the 1960s and 1970s and Baltimore was forced to go with veterans after winning the World Series.
While the Nationals have called up youngsters such as second baseman Luis García this year, there may also be a lack of depth in the system – especially at catcher and even with starting pitchers. Many of the top young pitchers in the system are recent high draft picks who are a few years away from the majors.
Washington’s system has been rated near the bottom this year by most industry leaders.
Trades were another common factor between the Orioles and Nationals.
Eaton was part of a controversial trade that helped the Nationals win the World Series. The Nationals traded young pitchers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning to the Chicago White Sox for Eaton prior to the 2017 season. Giolito became an All-Star and threw a no-hitter this season while Lopez and Dunning have also been starters for the White Sox, who are playoff-bound.
A comparable trade for Orioles?
While not as controversial, perhaps it was the outfielder Dan Ford deal. The Angels dealt him to the Orioles before the 1982 season and in return landed third baseman Doug DeCines, part of the 1979 World Series team with Baltimore who would eventually lead the Angels to the playoffs in 1982 and 1986. He had the misfortune of trying to replace Brooks Robinson, while Eaton became the regular right fielder after Bryce Harper left for the Phillies via free agency after the 2018 season.
A right-handed hitter, Ford batted .290 with nine homers in 1983 and then was released after the season.
Ford was signed back as a free agent before the 1984 season and turned 32 that year – and ended up hitting just one homer with an average of .231. The California native batted .187 in 1985, was released by the Orioles before the 1986 season and never played again.
The drop was nearly as dramatic for Eaton – he hit .279 with 15 homers last year then .226 with four homers this year in 41 games before going on the Injured List. And his defense may have dipped as well.
“I think it’s been a wacky year, odd season,” Eaton told reporters last week. “I don’t want to look too far ahead, because I’ll drive myself crazy with that, but this organization has been nothing but good to me, from the security guard that greets me in the morning to the Lerner family, some of the best people I’ve ever met. And like I said, for a 60-game season to kind of, I guess, settle my fate for next year coming back is kind of — I don’t want to use the words — but it’s kind of crappy. So, like I said, I try to be as consistent as I can for this team when I’m on the field, and like I said, for 60 games, and to have a poor showing, and then for this [to end] the way it is, like I said, it’s unfortunate, but like I said, it’s kind of how the year is going.”
“He was healthy last year, and you could see what he can do when he’s fully healthy. He’s an unbelievable player, he’s a spark plug on this team. His teammates mean a lot to him, this organization means a lot to him, so moving forward, we don’t know what’s going to happen, hopefully there’s conversations with him, but that’s something that [GM Mike Rizzo] and myself have to sit down and decide at the end of the year. But I love him. He knows that,” manager Dave Martinez said of Eaton.
And what about the Orioles in 1985? Baltimore was 86-78 and wound up 16 games out of first in the American League East. The Nationals certainly hope for a better fate next year – and what they hope is a full 162-game season.
Some other tidbits comparing the 1984 Orioles to the 2020 Nationals:
*each team had a pitcher from Virginia (Ken Dixon of Orioles, Daniel Hudson of Nationals)
*each team had a previous Cy Young winner (Jim Palmer and Mike Flanagan of the Orioles, Scherzer of the Nationals)
*each team had a star player in a quasi-third full season (Cal Ripken, Jr. of the Orioles, Juan Soto of the Nationals)
*the Orioles had Hall of Famers in Palmer, Ripken and Eddie Murray. Scherzer seems like a lock for the Nats.