The Nationals blew a hard-earned lead Tuesday evening when manager Dave Martinez sent closer Kyle Finnegan to the mound, tasking him with the protection of Washington's one-run lead at the top of the ninth inning. It did not go well.
Davey's managerial decisions have made a lot of Nationals fans scratch their heads over the past few years, but this season has begun as a new low for Martinez. Finnegan, who struggled greatly in his first appearance on Opening Day and then settled down against the Braves in the team's only win this season, gave up two home runs to the first two batters he faced, and then a double to the third. Having faced three batters (and given up severely hard contact to all of them), Finnegan was eligible to leave the game. People who watch Nationals baseball with any regularity at all know that when Finnegan has it, he has it, but when he doesn't have it, damage follows. So why did Finnegan stay in the game to turn the Rays' one-run lead into a four-run lead, especially since Hobie Harris was ready to go in relief?
It seemed as though everyone in the stadium except for Dave Martinez could see that Finnegan was not going to get out of the inning cleanly. Even though the save had already been blown, a one run deficit in the ninth was far from insurmountable as the Nats had been hitting well all game. Rather than limit the damage, Martinez stood on the top step of the first base dugout and watched a promising performance by his team turn into a blowout.
The crushing part is that Davey has to have known what was going to happen if he didn't pull Finnegan. He just didn't seem to care. So why, after the collapse of the promising 2021 squad and the rock-bottom year that followed (which I mark as a failure not because of the losing record, but because veteran players like Cesar Hernandez and Nelson Cruz retained starting roles deep into the season despite poor performance), has Dave Martinez remained manager of the Washington Nationals?
"But he won the World Series!" This is true and it should absolutely be considered in any appraisal of his performance. That said, that was four long years ago with a lineup stacked with MVP-caliber talent. Many World Series-winning managers have gone on to decline in performance, including Joe Maddon, Tony LaRussa, and Joe Girardi, to name a few. The game of baseball is ever-changing, and if you can't keep up, you don't belong at the helm of a big league ballclub.
If you take out the 2019 season, Davey Martinez is 229-321 as the Nationals manager (.416 Win Percentage). Even if you leave in the 2019 season, his win percentage is only .452, which is not particularly strong. In fact, from 2020 to 2022, Martinez is 146-238, which is a .380 win percentage. The Kansas City Royals, who are in the midst of a rebuild themselves, fired their Manager Mike Matheny after the 2022 season and he had a record of 165-219 (.430 win percentage) between 2020 and 2022.
The other leading argument in favor of keeping him has been that Martinez's value comes not from his ability to make good lineups or manage his bullpen, but that he provides leadership to developing young players. While this may be true, the notion is a slap in the face to fans who show up to see the team try to win. Development can come from veteran players and the peripheral coaching staff, and who says a better manager wouldn't also have the leadership skills to connect with young players to help them grow? It's frustrating to watch a team full of players who aren't at their prime yet, but it's infuriating, nay, unacceptable to watch that team be made worse by sloppy management.
It's important that young guys like Luis Garcia and CJ Abrams have guidance in the clubhouse, but that shouldn't have to come at the cost of a confidence-building win like the one they should have had against Tampa on Tuesday. The game began with some really exceptional at-bats from Abrams, Victor Robles, and Alex Call, and with a well-managed bullpen it might have ended with a victory that would have brought a little confidence back to to the fans as well as the players.
The Washington Nationals deserve a manager that will keep them in the games that they're lucky enough to be close in. Somebody who constructs lineups based upon statistics and analytics, lineups that bring the best out of the promising young players on this roster. Until the organization make a change in skipper, I fear that the worst forecasts for this Nationals season will not begin to tell the story of how unbearable it will be to watch.