In assessing the causes behind the disappointing follow-up to 2019’s World Series win, GM Mike Rizzo said the 2020 Washington Nationals, who finished 24-36 in the 60-game COVID campaign, struggled to deal with the start-stop-and-start again experience baseball teams dealt with after Spring Training 1.0 shut down in mid-March and Spring Training 2.0 started just three weeks before the rescheduled season opener in July.
“We see that there’s certain players that take to the start and stop of the season different than others,” Rizzo explained late last season.
“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.”
Rizzo, who assembled 2019’s World Series winner, and, obviously, their 2020 team, which finished tied for 4th in the division, took his share of the blame for what went wrong in the 60-game run.
“This is a team effort,” Rizzo said. “And just as I was the architect of the World Champions in 2019, I’m the president and general manager of the last place Nationals this year, so that stings, and we’re going to do everything we can not to have that happen again. We’re a winning organization, we’ve got a bunch of winners over here, and our goal is to win again. Win again next year in 2021, that’s our primary focus and with the leadership in place now, we can move on to roster construction and preparation for the 2021 season, and hopefully it will be closer to a normal regular, major league season, but if not we need to adapt and adjust and make sure that this type of finish doesn’t happen again.”
Rizzo and Co. in the front office built a roster they thought could compete in a tough NL East, and they got through Spring Training relatively healthy, only to have an outbreak in their organization before Opening Day, after they’d left West Palm Beach, FL for D.C. and they have now struggled out of the gate as they try to get everyone back up to speed after a total of 11 players, nine of whom were supposed to start the season in the majors, had to quarantine for a couple weeks as the 2021 campaign got underway.
“Every time we’ve had a start and stop it’s hurt us quite a bit,” manager Davey Martinez said after a 4-3 homestand over the last week-plus left the team 7-9 on the season.
“I mean, but I think it hurts all teams when that happens. These guys get ramped up. I felt so good coming out of Spring Training, we were starting to peak right at the right time, and then we had to stop. And then we had to get these guys together in a short period of time, and as you can see, we’re still having some guys that are just now getting back into that baseball shape as I call it. So, but you know I tell them we’re going to be fine.
“We’re going to be fine. We went through this little spurt, but everything is going to be okay, and we’re going to win a lot of games.”
Martinez’s club had to battle back from a 19-31 start in 2019, they fought through 2020, and their disappointing results, and are now working to recover from a tough start in 2021 too.
They have dealt with adversity before, with mixed results, but there’s no choice but to do it again, and do their best to fight their way back into things after a slow start this season.
“We talk all the time about getting off to a good start, you know, and then things happen that you can’t control,” he said. “So you know after every game, and every morning when I wake up that’s the first thing I tell myself, “Hey, just control the controllables. We’ve got 26 guys on the roster, do the best you can with those 26 guys.’
“You know what they’re going to do, you know they’re going to give you effort, and that’s all that I can ask from them. And just keep playing baseball. It’s a long season. It’s not like last year where — last year it was imperative that you get off to a good start. We got 162 games [this season].
“Our first 40 games, if you look at our schedule, our first 40 games as we know were going to be tough.
“I just tell myself, ‘Hey, focus on getting through the day and then move on to the next day,’ and that’s all I can think about. I worry about day at hand and hopefully we go 1-0 today.”