2019 Washington Nationals
2019 Washington Nationals / Franchise: Washington Nationals / BR Team Page
Managed by Dave Martinez
History, Comments, Contributions
The 2019 Washington Nationals entered the season with optimism, in spite of losing OF Bryce Harper to free agency (and to division rivals the Philadelphia Phillies before the season, and of having missed the postseason altogether in 2018. The main reason was the surplus of very good young position players on the team, starting with OFs Juan Soto, runner-up in the Rookie of the Year vote last year, and Victor Robles, and IF Carter Kieboom. This was definitely not a team on the decline. Soto and Robles were both in the starting line-up on Opening Day, March 28th, and Kieboom joined them on April 26th, as soon as future eligibility for salary arbitration ceased to be a concern. On April 28th, they became the first trio of players 21 or younger to homer in the same game as they all went deep in a 7-6 win over the San Diego Padres. In fact they were the first team since the 1997 Florida Marlins to feature three starting position players 21 or younger in their line-up!
For the second straight season, the Nationals started the year slowly. This time, it was pitching coach Derek Lilliquist who paid the price. He was fired on May 2nd and replaced by Minor league pitching coordinator Paul Menhart. However, as the Nationals continued to struggle, rumors became stronger that the next person to lose his job if things did not improve would be manager Dave Martinez. On June 9th, in a game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park, the Nationals accomplished a rare feat, that ironically, they had been the last to accomplish: they hit four consecutive homers in the 8th inning to break a 1-1 tie. Howie Kendrick started things off with a pinch-hit blast off Craig Stammen, and he was followed in order by Trea Turner, Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon. The Nationals won the game 5-2. It was just the 9th time a team had hit four consecutive long balls, and they had been the last to do so back on July 27, 2017. That burst came as the Nationals began to right what until then had been a drifting ship. They had been 20-31 on May 24th, and already 10 games out of first place, when they began to play better. They finished May by winning 5 of their last 7, and then went 18-8 in June, their first month above .500, finishing the month one game above the symbolic .500 mark at 42-41.
The Nats continued their resurrection over the next two months, going a remarkable 18-8 in June and 15-10 in July. On July 30th, they were at 57-51 and while they were still trailing the first-place Atlanta Braves by 6 1/2 games, they were back in the thick of the wild card race. However, the bullpen apart from closer Sean Doolittle was a disaster area - something that could have been said in previous years as well. They made a few moves to strengthen it at the trading deadline, adding some veterans in Fernando Rodney, Daniel Hudson and Hunter Strickland. In a key game against the Milwaukee Brewers on August 17th, Doolittle suffered a big meltdown, giving up 4 runs in the 9th inning while recording just one out to turn an 11-8 lead into a 12-11 deficit, and the next day he was placed on the injured list with right knee tendinitis, raising more questions about the state of the bullpen. That day, however, the Nats obviated the need for a closer by teeing up on the Brewers, matching a team record with 8 homers in a 16-8 rout. Matt Adams and Robles went back-to-back in the 1st, and Rendon and Soto, who hit a pair, did the same in the 3rd as the Nats were up 13-0 after just 3 innings. With a 13-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 19th, they had a stretch of 5 games in which they scored 62 runs, the most in franchise history.
On September 24th, a 6-5 win over the Phillies clinched a spot for the Nationals in the postseason as a wild card team; the Braves had already clinched the division title a few days earlier. It was the first time the Nats were a wild card team, as all of their previous postseason appearances had been as division winners.
Awards and Honors
- Gabe Lacques: "Finally World Series-bound, Washington Nationals put past failures behind them", USA Today, October 15, 2019. 
- Bob Nightengale: "After hitting rock bottom, Nationals are revitalized – and a terrifying postseason opponent", USA Today, August 5, 2019.