NEW YORK -- Dave Martinez kicked the dirt in front of home plate and slammed his hat to the ground, prompting home-plate umpire Bruce Dreckman to begin walking away from him and toward the Mets’ dugout. Martinez was not done, however, following Dreckman toward the dugout, screaming and pointing to try to make his case.
Howie Kendrick had been ejected from the game after voicing his displeasure about Dreckman not seeking help on a check-swing attempt in the eighth inning, and Martinez emerged from the dugout almost determined to earn what would end up as his third career ejection. The ensuing outburst served as a window into the frustration surrounding the Nationals and their second-year manager, who is normally reserved and averse to confrontations with umpires. But he did away with those reservations as the Nats lost again on Thursday afternoon at Citi Field, 6-4, completing a four-game sweep at the hands of the Mets.
This stretch was supposed to be a chance for a turnaround, back-to-back four-game series against the reeling Mets and the lowly Marlins that could have put the Nationals’ season back on track. Instead, Thursday’s loss marked a season-high fifth consecutive defeat. Washington fell to 12 games under .500 at 19-31, its lowest mark since the final day of the 2010 season, putting Martinez’s job security in jeopardy as the Nats’ season slips further and further away.
“You can't put a blame on one thing, you really can’t,” Martinez said. “This is, I’ve always said, this is a team thing. And when we lose, we lose together. And when we win, we win together.”
Since the start of the Wild Card era in 1995, only one team has ever started so poorly through 50 games and rebounded to make the postseason -- the 2005 Astros, who started the year at 18-32 but finished 89-73 to claim a National League Wild Card berth. To reach the 90-win mark normally necessary for a postseason berth, the Nationals would have to finish the season 71-41, a .634 winning percentage, which would be a stark turnaround from their current state.
“Why couldn't it be? I've seen other teams do it,” Martinez said. “I mean, we're not out of it, that's for sure. I can tell you that right now. Every day we're close, we compete, we're in every game. Now we just got to finish games.”
And it’s true. They are close. They do compete.
Whether it was prompted by Martinez’s impassioned ejection or not, the Nationals stormed back briefly to take the lead with a three-run eighth, only to once again fall victim to their bullpen as Wander Suero served up a three-run homer to Carlos Gomez in the bottom of the frame to give the Mets the lead again.
It’s as if each loss this week has seemed almost more painful than the previous one. The Nationals held a lead in the eighth inning in the final three games of this series. They lost all three games.
"A lot of games left, a lot of games,” second baseman Brian Dozier said. “I tell people that all the time. When you get off to a bad start, it just gets scrutinized more than ever because that’s the way you start the season. But it’s all about how you finish. We play a lot of teams I think we are capable of beating. We are a really good ballclub and I think we have a lot of games left. If it’s still the same way in October, we’ll talk again.”
October, however, is long way away, and it’s unclear how much more patient the Nationals can afford to be.
This team entered the season with a payroll near $200 million and expectations to compete for the NL East crown and advance deep into the postseason. And yet for the second straight season under Martinez, they have been one of baseball’s biggest disappointments.
The Nationals already dismissed a member of the coaching staff, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, last month, an admission that they expect more out of this roster. And while the Nationals have yet to waver publicly in their support for Martinez, he is now 101-111 as the skipper.
“He’s a hell of a manager,” Dozier said. “I got his back any day.”