WASHINGTON — 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 already 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 playoffs.”
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Howard Fendrich, The Associated Press