May 24, 2019: The Day The Washington Nationals Turned Everything Around
By Max Rayman
May 24, 2019, marked the day the Nationals sat at a pivotal crossroads. The team was 19-31 and instead of giving up they shocked the world.
May 24, 2019 is one of the most important days in Washington Nationals history. A year ago today, the Nationals were just coming off of a sweep at the hands of the New York Mets. In that series, the bullpen blew multiple leads and the team fell to 19-31, good for second to last in the NL. Only the Miami Marlins had a worse record. The team’s morale was at an all-time low and the media wanted Manager Dave Martinez out the door. Sports analysts went on to propose a firesale that would have sent off Anthony Rendon and Max Scherzer. The situation was bleak to say the least, with no hope on the horizon. Instead, Mike Rizzo trusted Martinez and allowed him to keep his job. This worked out for the best.
A major reason the Nats got off to such a disastrous start was key injuries to the offense. Before May had ended, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Matt Adams, Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick, and Juan Soto all spent time on the IL. By the time the Nats were swept by the Mets, most of the offense had returned, but they were still recovering. Over the next few weeks, the team returned to form and a small sliver of hope was in sight. Anthony Rendon was putting together an MVP caliber campaign, while Juan Soto was avoiding a sophomore slump. Stephen Strasburg finally avoided the injury bug and was able to live off to the tremendous hype that surrounded him since he was drafted back in 2009. While the bullpen was still blowing leads at an alarming rate, the offense was able to help make up for some of the problems.
May 24, marked the Nationals series with the Miami Marlins, which would go down as a turning point for the team. After being embarrassed four games in a row, the Nationals were at a breaking point and a series loss to the last-place Marlins would be the final nail in the coffin. Kyle McGowin was called up to start the game and the Marlins got to him early. As the Nationals came up to bat in the bottom of the fifth, they were already down 8-4. At this point, fans were ready to pack it in, but the team showed a glimpse of what was to come. Washington had fought back and by the time the eighth inning rolled around, the game was tied. The bullpen immediately blew the lead, but Juan Soto and Matt Adams hit a three-run shot and a solo shot respectively to put the Nats ahead for good. Washington went on to win 12-10. The game against the Marlins was a blueprint the team would follow for the rest of the season. Stay in the fight and if down, find a way to rally in the late innings.
Washington followed up the thriller by absolutely flexing their muscle. Patrick Corbin started game two of the four-game series against the Marlins and threw an absolute gem. The veteran threw his first complete-game shutout as a Nat. Corbin gave up four hits, walked one, and struck out five in a 5-0 Nats win. All five runs came in the fourth inning. The third game of the series saw Erick Fedde on the mound. Up to this point, Fedde was known for being inconsistent and was trying to prove he deserves to stay in the starting rotation. He went on to post one of his best performances with the team. Fedde threw five shutout innings, as he gave up four hits, walked three, and struck out four. At one point the Nats led 9-0, but the bullpen made it interesting at the end. Washington held on to win 9-6. The bullpen finally caught up to the Nats in game four, as the Marlins won 3-2, thanks to Kyle Barraclough being unable to preserve a 2-1 lead. Despite the loss, Washington now had a small sliver of hope. The team now sat at 22-32, and while they still had plenty of ground to cover, the team had some much-needed confidence.
Following the series against the Marlins, the Nationals were able to build on their success and started to chip away at the deficit in the NL East. The Nats immediately swept a two-game series against the Braves, took two of three from the Reds, and then swept a two-game series against the White Sox. After proving to the world they wouldn’t lay down and die against the Marlins and by the time the All-Star break rolled around, the Nats were 47-42. A key component of the team’s turnaround was due to signing Gerardo Parra off of waivers. The veteran helped revamp the lockerroom and chemistry.
In the second half of the season the Nats made some shrewd moves, from trading for Daniel Hudson to help bolster the bullpen, to claiming Asdrubal Cabrera from waivers. Cabrera provided much-needed depth and eventually took over at second. Hudson teamed up with Sean Doolittle to form a solid one-two punch. After the All-Star break the Nats went 46-27 and locked up a Wild Card spot.
Starting with the Wild Card game against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Nationals came up big when it mattered. Despite trailing at one point in all five elimination games they appeared in, the Nats weren’t fazed. Instead the team seemed to relish the challenge, coming back to win all five games. It should come as no surprise the team didn’t cave when they were down in any of the five elimination games. After all, sitting at 19-31 strengthened the club. It prepared them for adversity. The Nats would go on to vanquish the Brewers, Dodgers, Cardinals, and Astros on route to their first-ever World Series title.
19-31 has become a rallying cry in D.C., and the entire turnaround can circle all the way back to May 24.