As long as they were playing this year, every team still wanted to make it to October and try to win the World Series, even if it holds less weight than usual. The Nats failed to even get back to the playoffs though thanks to a lackluster offense and inconsistent rotation.
Here are the takeaways from a fairly uneventful final series of the year...
At least there’s one champ
Yes, the Nationals weren’t able to repeat as World Series champions this year, but that doesn’t mean that someone on their team didn’t end the season as champion...
After the shortened 60-game schedule, Juan Soto finished the year as the 2020 NL batting champion with a .351 average, just ahead of Freddie Freeman’s .347, Marcell Ozuna at .338, and his teammate Trea Turner at .335 — though DJ LeMahieu finished at .364 in the AL.
“Not only a batting champion,” manager Dave Martinez said after the series, “but I think he’s one of the youngest in over 100 years.”
And he’s right. Soto became the senior circuit’s youngest batting title winner in the modern era (since 1900) and the fifth-youngest batting champion in either league, with the only younger players to do it being Al Kaline, Alex Rodriguez, and Ty Cobb twice.
“I mean, what can we say about Juan Soto,” Martinez gushed.
“He comes every day ready to play. Not just hitting, but his defense, his baserunning, everything, and he just keeps growing every day.
“Congratulations to him and what he’s done. Unbelievable accomplishment.”
This batting title will come with the same invisible asterisk as the eventual World Series champion, but regardless, it’s an incredible accomplishment for someone so young who could still conceivably get even better as he sees more and more big league pitching.
“You haven’t seen the best of Juan Soto yet, that’s for sure,” Martinez explained. “He’s going to continue to get better in all aspects of the game. You’re talking about not only a potential MVP this year, but for many, many years.”
Maybe he just misses out on the MVP award this year because of his missed time at the start of the year, but NL pitchers are going to be terrified if this is just the beginning...
Davey gets his dough
With a lot of substandard play on the field this season for the Nationals, a lot of the good from 2020 has come away from the diamond.
After the Nats were able to lock up their World Series-winning General Manager, Mike Rizzo, earlier in September, news broke on Friday that they’d managed to come to an agreement with their World Series-winning manager on a multi-year extension.
“From ownership all the way down to the last area scout that we have,” Rizzo said at the press conference to announce Martinez’s extension to the media, “the whole organization is all fired up and excited about having Davey around.
“I think it speaks volumes for his leadership and the way he conducts himself and the way he can relate to every aspect of people on baseball operations. We couldn’t be happier.”
Sure, Martinez still has his flaws with just three seasons, one of which was obviously just 60 games, as a big league manager under his belt. You could argue his bullpen management could use some work, he’s still developing a feel for how long to keep his starters in games, and he seems to chop and change his lineup a bit too much if the offense is in a slump.
But after bringing a title back to Washington, there was no way the Nats could let him walk. This extension is richly deserved by Martinez for his work in 2020 and the way his players respect him as a skipper. Hopefully, he’ll keep growing and be in D.C. for many more years.
Don’t hate me but...
...in a series that the Nationals won and there aren’t that many ugly takeaways, which is generally good, it’s hard not to focus on the fact that in winning the series, Washington dropped themselves a good few spots in the 2021 MLB Draft.
Entering Saturday’s slate of games, the Nationals sat in 4th in the draft order. However, they then proceeded to win the final three games of the series and the season and dropped to 11th with lots of other results over the weekend going against them in that regard.
In an alternate universe where the Nats lost their final three games and were swept by the Mets, they would’ve ended up with the 3rd overall pick in the draft, potentially looking at either a future rotation stud in Jack Leiter or a possible five-tool outfielder in Jud Fabian.
Alas, the Nationals swept the doubleheader on Saturday and blew out the Mets on Sunday.
Obviously, I’m not advocating for professional athletes to throw away wins in the sake of draft picks. Not only is it tough to turn off that competitiveness that got them here, this is their careers that we’re talking about and everything they do on the field is scrutinized and being blasé about their performance can cost them further earnings at any point.
Also, unlike other major sports draft in the US, there are no true sure-things in the MLB Draft, so the difference between someone who gets picked higher in the first round and one a handful of picks later is pretty minimal over the course of time and several drafts.
It’s just that it’s a little bit unfortunate for the Nats that their late surge may well deny them with a nice jolt to their weak farm system in the form of a top-5 draft pick next year.
And similarly to the above about a more generic thought from the series, given that the result of the games didn’t matter too much, the only other negative takeaway from the end of the season is the task that awaits the Nationals as they figure out what went wrong.
Sure, the argument could be made that injuries derailed the season a lot. For example, Stephen Strasburg, Starlin Castro, and Sean Doolittle were all set to be big parts of the team and all of them spent most of the season on the Injured List.
However, in reality, the injuries weren’t overly crippling for a team that was predicted by some to win the division and they should’ve still been able to get into the postseason.
That leaves the Nationals’ management plenty of work this offseason to get back in 2021...
“We’ll evaluate the play on the field like we always do,” Rizzo told reporters on Saturday. “It will be different because we don’t have physical scouts in the stands, which will impact our decision-making process a little bit, but what we did do though, is I got to see our guys play 60 games, so we’re going to make assessments and evaluations from that.
“We will put together our short-term and long-term plans like we always do, and we’ll touch on the trade market, the free agent market, what’s within our system like we always do, like Davey said earlier in a trying, unsuccessful performance-wise season this year, we did come away with some bright spots and we feel that the future of this franchise is in good hands.”
This isn’t a team that needs a rebuild though. They believe that the young hitting core — including Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Victor Robles and a few more — is good enough to build around rather than tear down, with the expensive rotation hoping to bounce back.
“The core group is in place here,” Rizzo explained. “We’ve got young players who have performed terrific on the major league stage, and we’ve got more waiting in the wings.
“We haven’t won four division titles, a world championship, and a whole bunch of games by not having a clear concise strategy to put together another championship-caliber club, and that’s our goal for next year, to do the same.”
Expect another busy offseason for Rizzo and the Nats with a big task ahead of them.
To close out the good, the bad, and the ugly article series this season, I just want to say a quick thanks to you guys reading this for following along with all of the series recaps this year.
It’s been an odd year for the Nationals and baseball in general.
In the end, I’m glad they made it through this season, even if at times it didn’t always feel right with the short schedule and the complete lack of fans at all ballparks across the country. It did at least bring some normalcy back into our lives for a few months at least.
Now it’s time to sit back and watch the playoffs without sitting on the edge of my seat and see which team ends up on top. No matter who wins this season, the Nationals will still be the last real champs for a little bit longer in my mind...