In what has become a bi-yearly ritual in Southwest Washington D.C., the Nationals have concluded yet another search for a new skipper by naming first-time manager Dave Martinez its new leader. Martinez may not be a household name or one whose name comes up in casual fans’ minds but he has indeed gone through the gauntlet to get this gig.
After a 15-year MLB career with NINE teams, Martinez has spent the past decade serving as a bench coach for the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs under Joe Maddon. With the Nationals on its fourth manager in the last six seasons, this gig hasn’t been one that elicits any sort of job stability so I’m sure Martinez knows exactly what he’s signed up for and what he has to do—win exactly one more game in the Divisional Series than the previous managers have done.
Because, if we are really being honest, this is what it is all about. One game. Game Five.
The Nationals, for all of its regular season mastery, are indeed 0-4 in the four divisional series they appeared in, and three of those series ended in one-run, home losses in Game Five.
Martinez isn’t the older, revered veteran Davey Johnson. He isn’t the overmatched rookie manager who lost the locker room in Matt Williams and he isn’t the stuck-in-his-ways people-person in Dusty Baker.
Martinez is viewed as a players’ coach, developing good relationships with guys he coached in both Tampa and Chicago. He stresses his positive attitude and should bring a lot of energy to an organization that could really use it.
According to reports, Baker failed to spend much time in the clubhouse and did not build positive relationships with the players during his tenure, which is something Martinez plans to improve on during his time. Gaining trust and communication of veteran stars like Ryan Zimmerman, Max Scherzer and two key upcoming free agents after the 2018 season in Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy will be vital for Martinez’s success early on.
There are two prevalent issues that he may not be able to extinguish, though.
One: The team, season after season, enters the playoffs without taking many pressurized at-bats, which leads to a lot of tense offensive production in these series. Because the National League Eastern division has basically been a cakewalk during this run, none of the players have really had to focus on the little things that win games in October — putting the ball in play, moving runners over, not over-swinging, etc. The Nationals have been terrible at that.
Two: There is just a aura of pressure that is permeating through the clubhouse. That pressure is enormous in October and the team plays that way. Whether its not making the correct decisions on defense on which base to throw, or an ace pitcher totally losing his control, to a catcher all of a sudden not able to block the ball from becoming a passed ball. Things like that occur when pressure mounts. The ball club has showed time and time again that in those final games, they are just not mentally tough.
The only issue with Martinez is his lack of experience. He has never solely managed a team in his coaching career, which can be one the most stressful job in all of sports. Having a lot of veteran players with experience from the past two Octobers will be a big help early on getting Martinez accustomed to running his own team his way.
Hopefully that results in him leading this team into the second week of October for a change.