Martinez trying to right Nationals’ ship in time to make the playoffs
Time is running out for the Washington Nationals to deliver on the mission Dave Martinez was hired to achieve. The Nationals have spent most of the season chasing the top spot in the National League East and are currently on pace to win 82 games, which would leave them out of the postseason altogether.
But Martinez has no interest in managing expectations. He was brought in as a rookie manager to lead the team into the playoffs and that is precisely where he believes they will be come October.
“I have one job to do and that’s to take care of this team right here, in the dugout, in the clubhouse. Nothing outside,” Martinez said. “The results are getting there. When we left spring training and I wrote down the lineup for day one … we didn’t have that lineup until maybe three weeks ago because of injuries.
“We had so many guys go down. But that being said, we’re right in the thick of things and I love it. And every day we come out here we feel we have a chance to win.”
According to Sportrac, the Nationals have had to send 19 players to the disabled list during the season, tied for eighth in the majors. But the better measure of the impact injuries have had on the Nationals’ bid to win is the number of games those injured players have been unavailable — 1,137 combined, fifth in MLB and the second-most among clubs still in contention.
Key lineup regulars such as second baseman Daniel Murphy, first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and outfielder Adam Eaton have missed more than half the season. Stephen Strasburg has been out of the rotation multiple times and is currently back on the DL a second time, where he’s joined by closer Sean Doolittle and substitute closer Kelvin Herrera.
Nonetheless, Martinez is quick to point out that injuries are not to blame for results, since it would give the overall impression that the Nationals are not in control and at the mercy of external factors.
And one of the main lessons he has tried to impart in his first year as a manager is about accountability and responsibility. Martinez says he believes leaders are always accountable and hold others responsible for lessons learned.
“I tell them: ‘That’s your clubhouse.’ If I have to intervene, then something is really wrong,” he said. “And I will intervene. Don’t get me wrong, I will. But I have said that if I have to go in there and set the rules and set standards, then something is definitely wrong. They’re good at that. We had to find leaders and leadership had to develop. But they’re coming together and you can see it.”
Martinez’s relentlessly positive, don’t-panic approach is widely endorsed in the Nationals clubhouse.
“He’s done a great job of controlling what he can. We’ve had a lot of injuries and that makes it tough on any manager, but he has always stayed positive and never panicked,” Bryce Harper said. “His communication with his players is second to none. He enjoys what he does and it shows. He’s all about family and always has his players’ backs.”
Nats’ catcher Matt Wieters agrees.
“Everybody has bought in and everybody is playing hard,” Wieters said. “When you have a manager you know is out there feeling the struggles and feeling the successes as much as you are, it makes you feel good at the plate.”
Said Mark Reynolds: “He tells us to realize who we are. Just know the talent in this room and know that on the drop of a hat this can turn around. It’s nice to have a manager not come in and close the clubhouse and start yelling every night. That makes everybody freak out. He’s the total opposite and he has all the confidence and lets us play.”
While the sentiment is certainly appreciated in the clubhouse, the cold reality of the math is that to make the playoffs, the Nationals have to get on the kind of winning run they have been unable to achieve all season.
And now they have to hang on to their long-shot playoff hopes as they take on Martinez’s former team, the first-place Chicago Cubs. Martinez served as Joe Maddon’s bench coach for close to a decade, first in Tampa and then in Chicago, winning a historic World Series championship in 2016.
There has been speculation among some talent evaluators that Martinez’s Nationals, who coasted to NL East titles three out of the past four seasons, will benefit from the daily grind of essentially playing postseason baseball the rest of the way.
The argument is that previous Nationals teams, including the ones under Dusty Baker — who won 95 games and lost in the division series to the Dodgers in 2016, and won 97 games and lost in the division series to the Cubs last year — were not battled-tested for October baseball.
Martinez, of course, can’t look that far ahead and isn’t. Still, he reiterated that he’s confident the postseason is where his club is headed.
“You have to stay in the moment. Stay focused. Know what you’re going to do,” he said. “You have to take care of the seconds. The minutes, the hours, and the days will take care of themselves. Just to stay in the moment. I truly believe in my heart that we will be playing in October. There is no doubt.”
August 11, 2018 at 08:56AM