Nats know 19-31 start won't cut it in 2020

World Series champs seek early success in 60-game season

July 15th, 2020

Don’t get the Nationals wrong -- the "stuff movies are made of" turnaround from a struggling start made their first World Series championship that much sweeter last year.

Doing that once was enough, though, as they face an abbreviated 60-game schedule with little margin of error in 2020.

“We can’t really do the whole ‘19-31 thing’ and make it a story again,” catcher Yan Gomes said on Tuesday. “I think the story’s going to be on the other end. We’ve just got to get ready as much as we can and get it going from Day 1.”

The Nats finished the 2019 season with a 93-69 record, good for second place in the National League East. But their play through the first 60 games was like a different version of the team. They were 27-33 on June 4, just 10 games into their memorable comeback. If the season had ended that day, Washington would have finished 13th in the NL.

“We’re playing 100 games less than we normally do,” said reliever Daniel Hudson, who closed out the 2019 World Series. “Everybody can say how many times, ‘What was the Nationals' record through 60 games last year?’ We weren’t close to the playoffs. What does 60 games prove? I don’t know. Can you really figure out who’s the best baseball team in the league from 60 games? Probably not. But I think it’s going to be competitive.”

The Nationals are focused on carrying the momentum from last year into a hot start, which is helped by the fact their core pitching rotation and much of their 2019 roster has returned. At the same time, they also are facing uncertainties with key players Howie Kendrick, Victor Robles and Juan Soto not yet cleared for workouts just a week before Opening Day on July 23 against the Yankees. The team has been developing contingency plans to account for their potential absences so they aren’t hindered early on.

“We cannot go 19-31,” manager Dave Martinez said, echoing Gomes. “Every game in a 60-game season, you start off kind of like in a playoff run. We’ve got to try to win as many games as possible, especially early.”

Amid the regular-season changes, the postseason format remains the same: there will be five playoff teams from each league -- two Wild Card winners and three division winners. From there, the Wild Card Game winners will face the top division winners in best-of-five Division Series. Teams then will advance to best-of-seven League Championship Series and, ultimately, the World Series.

The Nationals are in pursuit of becoming the first team to win consecutive titles since the 1998-2000 Yankees. Martinez doesn’t want them to get distracted by trying to repeat what they accomplished last October, though. Not when there’s only 60 games to try to do it again.

“That feels like an eternity, honestly, right now,” Martinez said. “We’re more focused on 2020 and getting ready for July 23. We really are. Don’t get me wrong, that’s something I’ll never forget. … It took all of us to win in 2019. But it’s 2020. Obviously, everything’s different, so we’ve just got to focus on the here-and-now, and get ready for the 23rd.”