Champs done: Time to look to­ward 2021 for elim­i­nated Nats

Cecil Whig - - OURCECIL - By HOWARD FENDRICH

AP Sports Writer

WASH­ING­TON (AP) — When Yan Gomes was asked about the 2019 World Se­ries cham­pion Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als es­sen­tially play­ing out the string over the last four games of this sea­son, the catcher was put off by the premise.

“I don’t think we’re tech­ni­cally out of it yet,” Gomes said.

Tech­ni­cally, at that mo­ment, he was right. About four hours later, once Wed­nes­day had turned into Thurs­day and a game in­volv­ing other teams ended the wrong way for Wash­ing­ton’s tiny re­main­ing hopes, the Na­tion­als were of­fi­cially done.

For the sec­ond straight sea­son, man­ager Dave Martinez’s club got off to a 19-31 start. This time, there were not enough games to dig out of that hole.

A year af­ter win­ning the fran­chise’s first cham­pi­onship thanks to a his­toric turn­around, the Na­tion­als woke up Thurs­day in last place in the NL East with a 23-33 record and no math­e­mat­i­cal chance of re­turn­ing to the play­offs in a pan­demic-short­ened 2020.

That ex­tends a trend: No team has won the World Se­ries in con­sec­u­tive years since the 2000 New York Yan­kees capped a run of three ti­tles in a row, mak­ing the cur­rent drought the long­est in Ma­jor League Base­ball with­out a re­peat cham­pion.

“Not too many teams have done it. With that be­ing said, it was def­i­nitely a chal­lenge, with ev­ery­thing go­ing on this year,” Martinez said af­ter Wash­ing­ton’s 12-3 loss to Philadel­phia and old pal Bryce Harper, who hit two of the Phillies’ five homers in an empty Na­tion­als Park on Wed­nes­day night.

It was an odd year, to be sure, and meant that Wash­ing­ton and its fans never got to prop­erly com­mem­o­rate what hap­pened last Oc­to­ber. There was no op­por­tu­nity for a sell­out crowd to roar dur­ing the rais­ing of a cham­pi­onship ban­ner or to wit­ness a World Se­ries ring cer­e­mony.

And while there were strong per­for­mances at the plate from Juan Soto — once he got to play af­ter miss­ing the first eight games for what he thinks was a false pos­i­tive test for COVID-19 — and Trea Turner, not much else that went right for Wash­ing­ton.

The team lost third base­man An­thony Ren­don to free agency, then lost first base­man Ryan Zim­mer­man and start­ing pitcher Joe Ross to opt-outs, then lost player af­ter player to in­juries.

Most no­tably, World Se­ries MVP Stephen Stras­burg’s sea­son lasted all of five in­nings be­fore he was done be­cause of a nerve is­sue in his throw­ing hand. Other prom­i­nent mem­bers of the ros­ter whose year was cut short in­cluded sec­ond base­man Star­lin Cas­tro and re­liev­ers Tan­ner Rainey and Sean Doolit­tle.

The Na­tion­als con­clude their 60-game reg­u­lar sea­son with four games at home against the New York Mets, start­ing Thurs­day.

All that’s re­ally at stake for Wash­ing­ton in the se­ries is the op­por­tu­nity to leapfrog the Mets to avoid fin­ish­ing last in the divi­sion for the first time since 2010.

That’s why Martinez is look­ing ahead.

“What I do like is our po­ten­tial for 2021. I’ll say it again: Our start­ing pitch­ing, the horses are com­ing back. The back end of our bullpen is shaped up and those guys will be fresh and ready to go. We have some re­ally young tal­ent; we’ve got some other young tal­ent that hope­fully we’ll see in spring train­ing,” said Martinez, whose agent is in talks with gen­eral man­ager Mike Rizzo about a con­tract ex­ten­sion.

“I’m re­ally ex­cited about the fu­ture of this or­ga­ni­za­tion and where we’re headed,” he said. “I do be­lieve in my heart that next year we’ll com­pete again for a divi­sion ti­tle and to get in those playof fs.” al­ready

DAVID J. PHILLIP

FILE — In this Wed­nes­day, Oct. 30, 2019, file photo, The Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als cel­e­brate af­ter Game 7 of the base­ball World Se­ries against the Hous­ton Astros in Hous­ton. The Na­tion­als won 6-2 to win the se­ries. A year af­ter win­ning the World Se­ries thanks to a his­toric turn­around, the Na­tion­als woke up Thurs­day, Sept. 24, 2020, with a 23-33 record and no math­e­mat­i­cal chance of re­turn­ing to the play­offs. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

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