Washington Nationals: Make or break season for Dave Martinez

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 31: Manager Dave Martinez #4 of the Washington Nationals argues a call with umpire Chad Whitson in the sixth inning during a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park on August 31, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 31: Manager Dave Martinez #4 of the Washington Nationals argues a call with umpire Chad Whitson in the sixth inning during a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park on August 31, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /
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After an extremely disappointing first year as Washington Nationals manager, Dave Martinez will have a make or break season in 2019.

Expectations were high for Dave Martinez‘s first season with the Washington Nationals. Unfortunately, he didn’t come anywhere close to meeting them and is now likely to be under even more scrutiny in 2019.

Despite having a rookie manager, most media outlets had Martinez’s team running away with the National League East. However, his Nationals team finished the season with an 82-80 record that left them a distant second in their division.

Yes, there were several reasons that contributed to the team’s disappointing year. The team’s rotation underperformed early and the bullpen collapsed late while injuries were a constant issue for the team, all of these were likely more responsible for the underperformance than the manager.

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With all of the other issues combined with the fact that he was still a rookie manager, it was fair for the front office to give him a mulligan for last season.

While some will point to how Alex Cora won a World Series in his first year as Boston Red Sox manager, he is the exception, not the rule. Aaron Boone drew plenty of criticism despite a 100-win season, while fellow NL East rookie managers Gabe Kapler and Mickey Callaway had growing pains too. There are plenty of areas in which Martinez must improve to keep his job beyond 2019.

The most important improvement he must make from last year is the communication between Martinez, the rest of his coaching staff and the players. Martinez struggled to build a rapport with the coaches that he didn’t have a say in, while also adapting to his role may have caused some miscommunication, even with the coaches he was familiar with, leaving him to not have the best players in the best spots.

Bullpen coach Henry Blanco noted this in a recent article by Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post when he said “I think communication is one of the big keys. In the beginning, it took us time to figure it out. But right now, I think everybody is on the same page and trying to keep building that relationship with all of us,” back on September 17th with the season winding down.

In the same piece, there were also some interesting quotes from the players that still make it sound like a work in progress though. Closer Sean Doolittle said that “We have days when we have great communication. We still have days where the communication could be better, but his door has always been open to us.”

Then, Adam Eaton praised Martinez for being a “terrific manager,” before following it up by saying “Whether he puts us in the best situation or not in the best situation to be productive, I think he’s done his best. I appreciate him for that. I’ve enjoyed him,” which implies he’s still working on getting his players in the right spots.

One thing is for sure about Dave Martinez though, he appears to have the full backing of the players and is incredibly popular among the them as a person. That’s not an easy trait to find in a manager, as the Matt Williams led Nats can attest to.

When Daniel Murphy departed for the Chicago Cubs, he offered unprompted support for the manager. “I think he’s a good man. I think he’s a good baseball man. I think, in the midst of a lot of trials, he was always positive,” Murphy said. “We always played hard for him, which I think is a reflection of the manager, even when things aren’t going well.”

Shortstop Trea Turner was also vocal in his support of Martinez when saying “For me, I love Davey. He’s fun. He’s smart. He’s always thinking of new ways to get better and try to work on things. I think [the criticism] is kind of unfair because we just haven’t played that well.”

While Martinez is far from perfect, he seems to be trying to improve at every opportunity, unlike Williams. That combined with the various other factors in the team’s 2018 decline has bought him at least another season, so now it’s going to be time for him to repay the front office’s faith in him.

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Dave Martinez could very well be on the hot seat in his second season calling the shots for the Washington Nationals. He must improve or risk being out of a job this time next year.