clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What a difference a year makes for the Washington Nationals...

New, comment

After a stunning comeback in 2019 against Mets, this Nats’ team seeks its own form of magic...

MLB: SEP 01 Nationals at Phillies Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA – Dave Martinez sat down, cocked his head slightly to his right, and said: “Boom. What do you want me to say, ‘Boom!’

It was on this day a year ago, Sept. 3, 2019, that the Nationals scored seven runs in the last of the ninth to stun the New York Mets 11-10 at Nationals Park.

Veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki launched a three-run homer off Mets’ reliever Edwin Diaz into the left-field bleachers to set off a wild celebration among Navy Yard fans.

“A win is a win is a win is a win. The boys fought,” said a jubilant Martinez after the game.

“Grinding, just grinding away. The game is never over until it’s over,” Suzuki told Mid-Atlantic Sports Network after the biggest comeback in franchise history.

Less than a month later, the Nationals beat the Brewers in a wild wild-card game. And before the next month was over the Nats had won the World Series for the first time.

Now a year later, a late-season run to the playoffs seems less possible with each passing day. Granted, the Nats’ chances to reach the playoffs in May 2019 were about one percent and was around 10 percent according to one source before Wednesday night’s game in Philadelphia.

This season, of course, just didn’t seem normal after the pandemic shut down the game in March and led to a reduced 60-game season. Ryan Zimmerman, the face of the franchise, opted out due to health concerns before the season began.

“To be frank, this season is a bit of mess,” World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg said – before he was injured and done for the season.

Then the trade deadline came and went Monday, without the Nationals making a move, a lot of fans were left wondering the direction of the club.

It certainly doesn’t help, with just 26 games left for Washington, that general manager and president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo and Martinez – who will never have to pay for a meal in the DMV – are working without a contract beyond October.

Starting pitcher Austin Voth is 0-4 and the team has won once in his six outings. Veteran right-hander Anibal Sanchez has not been able to capture his October magic. Even Max Scherzer has given up a hit in the first or second inning in every one of his eight starts - so much for no-hit magic.

On top of that, MLB.com rates the Nationals’ farm system as the last out of 30 clubs. To be fair, the organization used a lot of that talent to trade for veterans who helped win the World Series – such as Daniel Hudson. There are few fans that wouldn’t be willing to trade farm system rankings for a World Series ring.

Washington got off to a slow start – but that is nothing new.

On this date a year ago, the Nationals were 78-59 after the infamous 19-31 mark in late May.

Now, with a game today in Philadelphia, Washington is 12-22. And there seems to be very little fight: the Nationals stretched their streak to 18 innings without a run here Wednesday as Adam Eaton struck out to end the sixth on three pitches with two runners on base and his team down just 2-0. He calmly put down his helmet and batting glove and headed to the outfield.

“The window of opportunity is closing,” Martinez said after Wednesday’s loss.

“When it’s not going your way, it’s frustrating,” Max Scherzer said.

“It’s not an easy game. It can turn around,” veteran infielder Asdrúbal Cabrera said Wednesday night.

After that historic win a year ago over the Mets, Martinez ended his press conference with this message for fans:

“One more thing, 26th man right there. Thank you. Thanks for hanging on, it was long, but we did it.”

If there is any silver lining this year, devoted Nats’ fans haven’t had to watch the free fall in person.