LOS ANGELES -- When he returns home after the end of each game, no matter if it’s the wee hours of the next morning or whether the Nationals have won or lost -- and there has been a ton of the latter recently -- manager Dave Martinez sits down to re-watch each game. He pours himself a glass of red wine and begins browsing through the game, considering each decision once again and rewinding back to sections he might use as a potential teaching moment.
Martinez admitted he has not been getting much sleep lately. It’s understandable, with the Nationals entering this four-game series in Los Angeles in the middle of their worst start in a decade, losers of six consecutive series and 11 of 14 games, overall, before they beat the Dodgers, 6-0, Thursday night at Dodger Stadium. Yet, Martinez has continued to remain upbeat and positive in the face of it all, traits he believes the Nats will need to stop this once promising season from slipping away.
“I’ve got four beautiful children, but honestly I’ve got 25,” Martinez said prior to the game. “I feel for each and every and one of them, I really do. I want them all to succeed and do well. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, but you have to keep pushing and stay positive with them and things will change.”
Thursday’s victory snapped a four-game losing streak for Washington and offered a reminder of how good this team can be, providing some validation for Martinez’s relentless optimism.
Wins have seldom gone so smoothly for the Nationals, who had not won a game by such a wide margin of victory since they beat the Phillies 15-1 on April 10.
“I still think we're a very good ballclub,” Corbin said. “Things are going to turn around, for sure. The guys in here are too good for us to keep losing. … I still think we're the best team in our division, we just haven't played like it.”
They have played far from it, actually. The Nats began the season with perhaps the most talented team on paper in the National League East, but are off to such a disappointing start -- 2-5 on this current 10-game road trip and 15-22 overall, the second worst record in the National League -- that pressure is beginning to mount on Martinez. The second-year manager owns a record of 97-102 overall with the Nationals, with the team underachieving for the second straight season.
The blame certainly extends beyond the manager’s seat. Their bullpen still owns the highest ERA in the Majors by a considerable margin. They have the worst defense in the NL by defensive runs saved (-26) and ultimate zone rating (-7.4). Free-agent acquisitions such as Brian Dozier, Anibal Sanchez and Trevor Rosenthal have not worked out as intended. They are still fielding a lineup without starting shortstop Trea Turner, left fielder Juan Soto (although he is due back from the injured list Saturday) and both first basemen, Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Adams.
Those issues are not so simple to resolve, however, and for a team whose aspirations began with a division title and extended much higher, falling short of those expectations usually brings change. The first person affected was pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, who was dismissed before this start of the road trip.
At that point, general manager Mike Rizzo reiterated his support of Martinez, as he has continued to do at every turn when asked to elevate Martinez, praising the manager for his communication skills and the fact that despite all the ups and downs of the past two seasons, he has not lost a clubhouse that continues to play hard for him. Consider Thursday night, when the Nats spent much of the game standing on the dugout rails, cheering enthusiastically.
“We had our conversations. They get it,” Martinez said. “We all want to win and they want to win. Today was a testament that, hey, they’re not going to give up. I want them to go out and enjoy the victory tonight and get ready to play tomorrow.”
After the game, Martinez already had plans to re-watch this game, which was one of the Nationals’ most fundamentally sound wins of the year. He wanted to see Corbin at his best again too, so if anything gets out of sync the rest of the year he knows what he should look for when Corbin is pitching to form. And during a season when so few things have gone smoothly, re-watching Thursday’s game should be a treat.
“That,” Martinez said, “was good baseball.”