The Washington Nationals are hard at work down in Florida preparing for the 2018 season. Down in West Palm Beach, Florida spring is already here. There is the crack of the bat and that beautiful sound of the baseball pounding the glove. It is here where we all feel at peace.
Early Talk of a Game 7
New Nationals manager, Davey Martinez, looks to bring the ballclub to new heights. Martinez was a bench coach for the Chicago Cubs. Yes those Chicago Cubs. The ballclub that ended the Nationals 2017 season this past October. How does one go from coaching the enemy to being beloved by the Nats faithful? Back in November when he spoke to the media for the first time as the Nationals newest skipper, there was one thing he said in particular that struck me.
“I’ll be honest with you when I came here for the playoffs, this place was electric. Even from the opposing side it was very… my hair stood up to see how the fans were, all the red.. I was jacked up about it. Now to be on this side and hope they cheer for me and our team, it’s gonna be pretty cool.”
This is coming from a guy who spent 81 nights of the season (and more during October) at one of baseballs most beloved ballparks in Wrigley Field. The fact that Martinez already admired the Nationals fans while over at the third base dugout will be why he’ll be quickly embraced over here. Martinez knows about the pursuit of this team and he made it clear to his players the first day of camp.
“We’re here to play the last game of the season and win,” said Martinez.
Not Game 162. Not NLDS Game 5. World Series Game 7. Bold.
The Houston Astros, who also share the same Spring Training complex, accomplished that very feat last year and it was truly a remarkable story.
“My vision is that we have the same sign on our side next year: World Champs,” added Martinez.
From his positive attitude to the circle of trust, Davey is the right guy for the job.
Over on the mound the Nationals return reigning back-to-back Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, Stephens Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark as locks for the starting rotation. A strong candidate for the fifth spot could be A.J. Cole. There may also be some new faces on the hill, possibly Bryce Harper’s brother Bryan.
Sean Doolittle will be the closer this season and after the bullpen was a big problem for most of last season, he’s been the biggest solution. Doolittle had 21 saves in a Nationals uniform since being acquired late July. He can even strike out Bryce Harper.
Two players who have been recovering from injuries hope to be healed in time for Opening Day. Adam Eaton suffered a season-ending torn ACL injury back in late April. Even though it was 10 months ago, Opening Day is still the goal.
“We still have a bit of time until Opening Day, and that’s our focus. Unless something unforeseen happens, I think that’s easily attainable,” Eaton told Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post.
After the Nationals were eliminated from the playoffs, Daniel Murphy underwent debridement and microfracture surgery on his right knee. Murphy is still rehabbing from his knee. His activities so far this spring have come from lifting in the weight room, running on the treadmill and playing catch and taking ground balls on his knees.
Right now, he can only dream of at-bats.
“I may be a little unique, crazy, but when I go to bed at night and can’t sleep, I fall asleep to at-bats in my mind,” said Murphy.
This too shall pass. He’ll get there.
All Eyes on Bryce
Bryce Harper is entering the final year of his contract. The 2015 National League MVP looks build on his successful 2017 that saw him hit the second most homers in his career (29). His 2015 campaign that led to being named MVP came from smashing 42 long balls. There are a ton of rumors surrounding Harper based on where he’ll end up this winter but Harper just wants to focus on this year.
“Just want to let you guys know that I will not be discussing anything relative to 2019 at all. I’m focused on this year, focused on winning and playing hard like every single year so if you guys have any questions about 2019 or anything after 2018 call (my agent) Scott (Boras) and he can answer for you guys,” Harper told the media.
There you have it. No drama, no rumors. We’ll worry about 2019 in November.
Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon will also be some key players to watch this season. Turner you’re gonna want to keep your eyes on along the base paths, he’s fast! His 46 stolen bases last year set a new Nationals record, passing Alfonso Soriano’s 2006 record (41). Rendon is coming off a career-high 25 home runs, 100 RBI’s and 31 doubles (they call him Tony Two Bags for a reason). The mullet may be gone but I’m sure his offense will stick around. These guys were paired in the same paragraph for a reason, they’re best buds.
The boys of summer are working hard in Florida. On Friday the exhibition slate begins with a contest against the Houston Astros at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. The Nats will be the victors in that contest but they’ll host the Atlanta Braves on Sunday for their spring home opener. With each passing day, Opening Day gets closer and closer. For now, we should just all be happy for the simple fact that baseball is back.