“I think it’s been obviously up and down,” Ryan Zimmerman said of the first half of the 2021 campaign for the Washington Nationals, who went into the All-Star break five games under .500, at 42-47, 6.0 games back, in fourth place in the NL East.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of injuries just like kind of every team does, but I think the important thing is we’re still in a position to do something. We’ll enjoy the break and come back ready to go, and obviously have to get off to a good start after the break.”
Davey Martinez’s club dropped four straight before the break, and 9 of 11 in July, following a 19-9 run in June got them back in the mix in the division after they went 21-29 in April/May.
“Obviously these last few games here didn’t help,” the 36-year-old Zimmerman added.
“The good thing is we’re not out of it. We’ve got to go into the break, enjoy some time off and come back ready to go.”
Zimmerman’s teammate for the past seven seasons, Trea Turner, had a similar take on the so-called “first half” of the 2021 campaign in D.C.
“It’s been a weird year,” the 27-year-old shortstop told reporters last weekend. “I think we started off pretty bad and we were fairly healthy for the most part, and we started to kind of climb out of that and started to play pretty good baseball, and then we got hit with a lot of injuries, so we’re having to kind of — having to climb out of another hole.
“I think we got the guys in the clubhouse to do it, we’ve got the mentality and you know, the toughness, I guess you could say, but it’s tough when you’ve got to deal with a lot of injuries at one time.”
The Nationals currently have 10 members of their 40-man roster on the Injured List, with the likes of Stephen Strasburg, Will Harris, Kyle McGowin, Tanner Rainey, Joe Ross, Yan Gomes, Alex Avila, Jordy Mercer, and Kyle Schwarber all dealing with injury issues as everyone rests up for the start of the second half.
“We’re hanging in there,” Max Scherzer said after he was named to his eighth career All-Star Game over last weekend. “We’re dealing with some injuries, we got bit pretty hard there for a bit, but we’re a pretty darn good team, and you know when you’ve got three All-Stars, four All-Stars, everybody playing at a high level, you can do some things, especially if we can get Stras back. If we can get him back that can really provide us a shot in the arm to really get going, and that’s the way we’re going to have to win this year.”
As the three-time Cy Young award winner noted, the club has been through this sort of thing before, and as tired as it is to compare everything to 2019, the Nationals’ ace said there were similarities between the ‘19 club and this year’s team.
“Kind of mirrors what we did in 2019,” the 36-year-old starter said. “Not saying that’s what’s going to happen, but we understand what it’s like to kind of be — go through an injury bug and then come on and catch fire late.
“We understand that there’s a way to win from this manner, but at the end of the day you always want to be in first place. No one ever wants to be in second place. You always want to be in first place. So it’s kind of — kind of both sides here, you understand why we’re in the situation that we are, but if we can play our best baseball in the second half, we can do some great things.”
The Nationals’ manager had a similar message when he talked over the final weekend of the first half about what he was telling his club going into the break.
“Focus on coming back and finishing up the second half — start off the second half and finish out strong,” Martinez said.
“We played well for a while there, we battled a lot of injuries, but we’re still in this thing, you know, not by any means do we feel like we’re out of it.
“We’re very positive about going forward, so hopefully we get everybody healthy here real soon, and we keep playing and we end up where we need to end up and that’s heading for the playoffs.”
Looking back on the first 89 games, the fourth-year skipper said there was a lot to like and a few clear areas where they could improve on what they’ve done.
“We need to continue to — one, our offense started clicking. Our starting pitching needs to get better. We need to go deeper in games,” he said.
“Our bullpen has done well, but they’ve been used a lot. We definitely need — if I say we had to improve on something — we need to get some depth out of our starting pitching and go deeper in games.
“If we can do that, and keep our bullpen sound, we’re going to take off again, I know we are.
“So, the offense has been, like I said, we’ve been scoring runs, so hopefully we continue to do that as well.”
The Nationals are 21st of 30 MLB teams in runs scored on the year (372), 22nd in home runs (97), 20th in walks (273), 24th in Ks (743), 6th in AVG (.253), 7th in OBP (.325), and 11th in the majors in SLG (.406), while their combined 4.12 ERA is 14th of 30, with the 9th most homers allowed (115), and their BAA (.237) 15th.
Considering the rough stretch they’ve been in over the last couple weeks, Martinez said that the All-Star break came at a great time.
“We definitely — the All-Star break came at the right time for us. We definitely could use a little break. Like I said, we’ve had guys just come off the IL in the bullpen. They also could use a little rest,” the manager explained.
“Even though they came off, it’s still taxing for these guys to try to get built up again, so the rest will do them some good. So, like I said, I really believe that we’ll come back strong in the second half, we got a lot of games left in our division. We’re going to bang heads with the Mets and the Phillies and the Braves and the Marlins, so it should be a fun second half.”
Going into the break with four straight losses was obviously not ideal, but this past Sunday in San Francisco, CA, Martinez said that they have to come back ready to fight if they want to get to where they all want to go.
“Obviously we did want to win today, but you know what, hey, we’re going to have a short break here, regroup, come back, and come back strong,” he said.
“We still got a lot of season left, and I’m excited about that, like I said, we’ll start getting some of our guys back hopefully, But it’s that time, you know, where you get that four days off, and come back, you’re reenergized and we can come back and start playing baseball, and try to creep back in this thing. Not by any means do I feel like — like I said earlier, that we’re out of it. I mean, it took us a while to get going, we got going, it felt good, we got a couple of key injuries, but now we got to keep going, keep playing, keep going 1-0 every day, and go from there.”