The Nationals, sitting at 19–31 on the season and having won just one series since mid-April, very much have the look of a pile of crap. It’s not clear that the organization has accepted this as anything other than a phase, but the time is fast approaching when denial will no longer be possible. Unless things turn around immediately and dramatically, the next phase of this sort of tailspin is the inevitable firing of someone in charge, and second-year manager Davey Martinez looks more and more like the man for that honor. For now, while he’s still got the job, Martinez is going to get his money’s worth and kick a little by-God dirt on the plate, a baseball manager’s highest calling.
Martinez was ejected in the eighth inning of Thursday’s game against the Mets. Home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman called Nationals utility man Howie Kendrick out on a checked swing, and then ejected Kendrick for something muttered in the subsequent exchange. This brought Martinez out of the dugout for a spirited, minute-long performance of supreme pissed-off-edness about Dreckman not calling for help from the first-base umpire on Kendrick’s aborted swing:
Martinez and Kendrick were tossed with the Mets leading 3–1; following the ejections, four of the next five Nationals batters reached base, and three of them came around to score, giving the Nats a one-run lead. This could be described as Martinez inspiring his team to life, except that nothing in the universe is more terminally ill than a narrow Nationals lead. They’ve reached a point where they are more likely to win a game they have already lost than they are to win one where a narrow lead has been turned over to their bullpen. This nightmare statistical breakdown came before today’s game:
The pattern is really something. The Nats bullpen blew two late leads in just the second game of this series, back on Tuesday: a three-run lead in the seventh inning, and then a one-run lead in the eighth. Wednesday they blew a one-run lead in the eighth inning when reliever Kyle Barraclough and closer Sean Doolittle gave up six runs between them. True to form, Thursday reliever Wander Suero took the mound in the eighth inning with a one-run lead and gave up a first-pitch double; two batters later the Nationals issued an intentional walk to Wilson Ramos; four pitches later Suero gave up a three-run go-ahead dinger to Carlos Gomez, on a juicy, center-cut fastball, thrown on a 1–2 count.
Gomez’s dinger helped the Mets complete a four-game series sweep in which the Nationals led in the eighth inning of three consecutive games. The Nationals managed to lose consecutive games in which starters Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg allowed a combined two runs across 13 innings of work. The dread that sets in when a Nationals starter reaches the sixth inning with more than 70 pitches under his belt is so thick it has an actual smell.
In news that literally everyone saw coming, it turns out firing a pitching coach 30 games into the season did not suddenly turn Washington’s collection of bullpen bozos into a workable unit. Firing Davey Martinez will likewise not do the trick, but it’s clear also that nothing he’s got hidden up his sleeves is any more effective. The back end of Washington’s rotation is a mess; the lineup is torn up and underperforming; the bullpen is a furry pile of unidentifiable roadkill, moldering in the sun. If the Nationals are not a pile of crap, they’re quickly and spectacularly squandering their last opportunities to prove it.