WASHINGTON -- Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez still sticks to his favorite catch phrases and his familiar optimism, invoking phrases about “going 1-0 today” and “anything can happen.”
He recalls, naturally, that when the Nationals were 19-31 early in 2019, “Everybody wrote us off, right?” And he reminds his listeners, of course, that a World Series title eventually arrived that fall.
And yet, as his club prepared to embark on a nine-game road trip scheduled to begin Friday night at the San Francisco Giants, even the man of the perpetually sunny disposition allowed this assessment: “I'm not going to lie. It's been tough.”
Those words came after a 3-2 loss to the visiting Miami Marlins on Thursday wrapped up a three-game sweep, which followed a three-game sweep against San Francisco last week, which came after two losses to close a series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Add it all up and that's eight losses in a row for the Nationals, who have managed to push across a total of just 16 runs during that span.
Overall, Washington is off to a 6-15 start, on a trajectory to finish last in the NL East for the third straight time. Here's how bad the rebuilding Nationals are in the scheme of things: The only club with fewer wins in the major leagues at the moment is the Cincinnati Reds.
“It’s been a tough week or so for us here,” said Patrick Corbin, the left-hander who signed a six-year, $140 million contract as a free agent before 2019 and was a key component of that championship squad in rotation and bullpen in the postseason, but has struggled since.
Not too many folks are witnessing this display in the District, however: Announced attendance at Nationals Park during the just-concluded homestand averaged 18,553, and included a worst-turnout-since-the-Expos-moved-to-Washington of 9,261 for one game.
“Baseball has a lot of ups and downs. It's tough when things aren’t going well for everybody,” Corbin said. “You try to do more — and sometimes doing less is best.”
Corbin was not the biggest problem in Thursday's loss, even if it left him with an 0-4 record and an 8.69 ERA.
There was the defense that made two errors.
There was the bullpen that allowed two inherited runners to score in the seventh, one via a wild pitch.
And there was an offense that produced merely four hits — zero from Juan Soto (currently batting .243 with three RBIs all season) or Nelson Cruz (hitting .160). Soto walked in his last two at-bats Thursday, including with a runner in scoring position in the eighth, and while Martinez constantly praises the 2020 NL batting champion's patience at the plate, the skipper did allow he would prefer the slugger to be “a little more aggressive” in such situations.
“I’ve been staying up. I've been looking at a bunch of different things, trying to get guys better,” Martinez said. “Throughout our lineup, there’s no consistent at-bats. ... We’re not getting that big hit. We’re not having that big inning. We need to start swinging the bats a little bit better.”
Should the issues persist for Cruz, there could be consequences for what general manager Mike Rizzo likes to term his “reboot,” because the 41-year-old designated hitter presumably would draw less in return if shipped away at the trade deadline.
Starting center fielder Victor Robles is batting .152. Shortstop Elcides Escobar is at .123 and was replaced in the lineup the past two games by rookie Lucius Fox, who is 0 for 20 — and whose list of misadventures includes vomiting on the field during Sunday's loss, a throwing error in the third inning Thursday, when he also was picked off first base after walking.
Among the recent lowlights: Two Nationals baserunners were thrown out at the plate on consecutive plays in Tuesday's 5-2 loss to Miami.
“Guys, maybe, in here are trying to do a little too much,” Corbin said. “Just got to go out there and trust what we’ve got and trust the people behind you.”
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