Dave Martinez has made a number of questionable decisions in his 203 games as manager of the Washington Nationals, but relieving the skipper of his duties won’t solve the team’s problems.
The Nationals went into this season with high expectations, even with the loss of star outfielder Bryce Harper to the division rival Philadelphia Phillies in free agency. They added Patrick Corbin, a 2018 National League All-Star, and Anibal Sanchez, who recorded a 2.83 ERA in 2018, to a starting rotation that featured Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg; they bolstered their lineup by acquiring catchers Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki and signing second baseman Brian Dozier; they also seemed to improve their bullpen by bringing in Trevor Rosenthal, Kyle Barraclough, and Tony Sipp.
However, what appeared to be one of the most productive offseasons in Major League Baseball has resulted in, to this point, the most chaotic and disappointing season in franchise history.
Currently 16-25, the Nationals are in fourth place in the NL East and getting unreliable production from every aspect of their roster. Outside of Anthony Rendon (.316, 19 RBIs) and Howie Kendrick (.302, 21 RBIs), the Nationals offense has been underwhelming, to put it nicely. They went into their Tuesday night matchup with the New York Mets ranking 21st in MLB in runs (176), hits (320), on-base percentage (.309), slugging (.396), and OPS (.705), 22nd in total bases (537), and 23rd in batting average (.236).Canning second-year manager Dave Martinez would be merely a bandage on a severed arm for the @Nationals, whose problems run far deeper than the skipper. @RPStratakos evaluates the situation.Click To Tweet
Yes, Juan Soto, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Adams, and Trea Turner have been on the injured list, but even before their injuries, they were disappointing at the plate. After a superb rookie season at the plate, Soto has driven in 23 runs, but is also hitting .235; Zimmerman is hitting .213; Adams is hitting .250. Meanwhile, Dozier is hitting .192, and Victor Robles is hitting .250.
Then there’s the national treasure that is the Nationals bullpen (no pun intended). Going into Tuesday night their bullpen was 30th in ERA (6.34) and strikeouts (116) and 29th in opponent batting average (.279). On an even more disturbing note, their bullpen has done so pitching the fewest innings in baseball (115.0). This collective production far exceeds any struggles the Nationals bullpen has endured in years past.
Outside of All-Star closer Sean Doolittle — who owns a 1.00 ERA — and Barraclough — who owns a 3.52 ERA — there isn’t a reliever who Martinez can rely on to get an out; seriously.
Matt Grace owns a 7.11 ERA and 1.68 WHIP; Wander Suero owns a 6.19 ERA; Sipp owns a 6.00 ERA; former starter Joe Ross owns a 9.58 ERA and 1.94 WHIP; Justin Miller has surrendered four home runs in 14.0 innings; before going on the injured list, Rosenthal owned a solid 36.00 ERA and 5.33 WHIP and had an ERA of infinity through his first four appearances.
This bullpen struggles to get through innings, locate the strike zone, and repeat a good at-bat. It’s only a matter of time before Screech gets a shot at the seventh inning. Heck, what projected to be a super starting rotation has fallen far below expectations.
Max Scherzer hasn’t been his dominant self, is laboring through at-bats, getting removed relatively early in games, and off to the worst start of his five-year career with the Nationals; Stephen Strasburg has been a strikeout machine, but is finishing off starts by leaving runners on base to later cross home plate; Sanchez owns a 5.27 ERA and 1.68 WHIP; Jeremy Hellickson owns a 6.00 ERA and 1.67 WHIP; Corbin, who dazzled in seven shutout innings against the Dodgers in Dodger Stadium Thursday night, has been the team’s sole dominant starter.
You can’t blame Martinez for injuries. The Nationals farm system is thin and the players management has brought up have little to no MLB experience. And if proven commodities are going to struggle, believe it or not, the manager can’t hit, or pitch, for them. If a bullpen can’t get big outs and the manager continues to try pitchers in new roles, which Martinez has done, and it still doesn’t work, there’s little he can do.
Now, had general manager Mike Rizzo spent big on top-tier relievers, which there were plenty of on the open market this offseason, it would be a different conversation. Instead, he gambled on Rosenthal reviving himself after missing 2018 due to Tommy John surgery, relied on potential bang for the buck signings to pan out, and banked on a healthy Doolittle taking pressure off the rest of their bullpen.
There’s an abundance of talent around the diamond and on this team’s pitching staff. Martinez has made adjustments to try to find a lineup and bullpen rotation that works; they’ve all failed. There’s only so much a manager can do, but for Martinez’s sake, he’s likely in danger of losing his job.
The Nationals organization have held extremely tight leashes on their managers in recent memory. Matt Williams and Dusty Baker were each let go, or fired, after two seasons apiece. And in Baker’s case, he was the first manager to lead the Nationals to back-to-back NL East championships.
Now, they’ve never escaped the first round since the move to the nation’s capital, so it’s not as if they have a standard of winning the pennant. But after the Nationals let go of Williams after a first-round loss and playoff-deprived season and didn’t retain Baker after back-to-back playoff appearances, what do you think is going to happen to Martinez if the Nationals miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season?
Heck, he may not make it to the MLB trade deadline if the Nationals continue to drown below .500. Granted no one is running away with the division, the Phillies, Mets, and Atlanta Braves were viewed as being in a four-team race with the Nationals for the NL East at the outset of the season. At some point, one of those teams is going to break away from the pack.
Martinez isn’t the solution, but he’s also not the problem. Unfortunately for the second-year manager, he’s likely going to be jettisoned midseason, or at the conclusion of the regular season.