The Washington Nationals are far too talented to not have a winning record in July, which is why from here on out, Davey Martinez should be managing for his job.
Numerous key injuries and Bryce Harper‘s underperformance are clear factors in the Nats failing to produce a winning record just four games before the All-Star break. But one other reason is equally obvious: the team’s rookie manager is doing an extremely poor job so far.
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Let’s start with baserunning. As was pointed out during ESPN’s June 24 Sunday Night Baseball broadcast, the Washington Nationals have looked absolutely woeful on the basepaths this year.
How did this happen? Look no further than the headline of this Washington Post article from February: “The Nationals are making baserunning mistakes. That’s fine with their new manager.”
When watching the majority of this year’s Spring Training games, it’s hard to overemphasize how horrific the Nats looked on the bases. It’s the fundamental errors that have been the most troubling.
Martinez, who pushed his players to “be aggressive”, thought his baserunners would lock in and start making correct decisions out of the blue. The new manager even told the Washington Post that “in [actual] games, they’ll be a little smarter”. That still hasn’t happened past the midway point of the season.
While there’s no stat to measure energy, another insight from watching exhibition games in West Palm Beach was how little the Nationals seemed to care. There was a palpable difference from 2017 that’s hard to describe. At times, it felt like no one wanted to be there.
To avoid completely wasting the 2018 season and potentially being fired come winter time, Martinez can and should seriously consider three immediate changes:
- Stop giving away outs on the bases. In particularly egregious cases, players who make base running gaffes should be benched.
- Start manufacturing runs. While this might not mesh, at first glance, with being more cautious on the bases, think of all the times the Nationals have had runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs only to strand both runners. Martinez needs to start utilizing the bunt, even if the batter is considered a “star”. There should also be a focus on productive outs, rather than strikeouts due to swinging for the fences, with runners on base and no outs.
- Stop constantly changing the lineup. While the need to give Daniel Murphy and Adam Eaton extra rest is understandable due to the nature of the injuries they’re recovering from, the respective lineups vs. righties and lefties shouldn’t be changing so frequently when everyone is in it. Set a tone of consistency, and consistency will be the likely result.
To say the Washington Nationals are too talented to have a .500 record is an understatement. Davey Martinez needs to make adjustments and fast to try and salvage the 2018 season. If he doesn’t he could be replaced with somebody who will.