Martinez knew how that felt for Chicago Manager David Ross. At the same time, straight across the field, the Nationals lost eight players — including Max Scherzer and Trea Turner — because the front office and ownership saw no path to a second title in three years. That the teams met this weekend was an odd twist of fate, an almost too-on-the-nose reminder that success is fleeting and eras end. Martinez, having been on both sides, was the perfect person to articulate it.
“They had a bunch of icons traded from a team that waited such a long time to win a World Series,” Martinez said of the Cubs, though he could have been describing his own team. “It’s tough. It’s tough for everyone in that organization. It’s tough for fans. But for me, for everybody, you got to understand the game and what transpires in the game. There are only so many things that myself and players can control. It’s just that way.”
On Saturday night, the Cubs won, 6-3, to even the three-game series. The state of each roster was apparent in the lineups and quality of play. Yadiel Hernandez, a 33-year-old who debuted last season, batted fourth for the Nationals, perhaps because a recent uptick in production made him the best option to follow Victor Robles, Juan Soto and Ryan Zimmerman. For the Cubs, Patrick Wisdom, a rookie of the year candidate, hit cleanup and was surrounded by Ian Happ, David Bote and Jason Heyward, a steep drop from the talent they had 48 hours ago.
In Wisdom’s first at-bat, Soto broke in on a line drive straight at him and a run scored on the error, kick-starting an uneven outing for Joe Ross. In Hernandez’s first at-bat, he lined a ball to left that Happ bobbled, helping Soto score from first. The teams finished with two errors apiece, which didn’t quite account for the defensive struggles.
As the Nationals test players, as Luis García plays some shortstop, as Carter Kieboom starts at third, Washington has to get used to growing pains. Chicago, too.
“The biggest thing is that it happened all at once,” Martinez said of the roster implosion. “That’s a shocker for everybody — that all of a sudden everybody is gone. It happened here. And my job is to take the 26 young men that I have and kind of explain to them what happened and what’s going to happen.
“My explanation to our guys was that, ‘Unfortunately, you guys lost teammates, you lost friends, but you’re going to gain more teammates and you’re going to vibe together.’ Max Scherzers, Trea Turners, Kris Bryants, the Rizzos, they all made a name for themselves. Now it’s time for some of these young players to go out there and make a name for themselves.”
Zimmerman, Washington’s 36-year-old first baseman, has been through all shades of the competing spectrum. He was the Nationals’ first draft pick, way back in 2005, when the franchise was owned by Major League Baseball and the cupboard was entirely bare. He was the star of those early years, the reason for hope, before the club drafted Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper and started adding pieces. And he was here for the decade of contention, smacking a homer in Game 1 of the World Series, then signing back on one-year deals for 2020 and 2021.
He also felt the growing pains Saturday, scooping a low throw from García in the first, then leaping for Kieboom’s high throw that was charged as an error in the third. But the shaky defense was only one part of Ross’s rough appearance. His final line consisted of 4⅓ innings, seven hits, five runs (four earned) and five strikeouts, all of them with his slider.
In the seventh, Chicago tacked on a run against reliever Jefry Rodriguez, who logged nine outs and 45 pitches. Kyle Hendricks pitched seven innings for the Cubs, allowing one run. The Nationals surged in the eighth, scoring twice, yet their rally fell short.
The defeat dropped them 7½ games behind the New York Mets in the National League East, a deficit that, in truth, only matters for mathematical survival. Washington chose to take a giant step back for future leaps forward, shown most by its willingness to trade Turner, once its franchise shortstop.
The Cubs, on the other hand, began stripping their roster last winter, when they traded starter Yu Darvish for prospects and let left fielder Kyle Schwarber become a free agent. Schwarber landed with the Nationals before they sent him to the Boston Red Sox on Thursday, netting 20-year-old pitcher Aldo Ramirez in return. Jon Lester, a member of the Cubs’ title team in 2016, was with the Nationals this year before going to the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday for 25-year-old outfielder Lane Thomas.
Their paths to selling this week were not parallel. They did clash, though, ending with this matchup of teams wading into an uncertain process. Zimmerman, the guy who has seen everything, considers it a necessary step.
“When you’re a buyer or you’re not a seller at the trade deadline for basically the last 10 years, your minor league system gets very depleted, and it won us a World Series, so I don’t know why anyone is complaining,” he said Saturday. “I think if you ask anyone, they would go back and do everything that we did over the last however many years because of 2019. But we needed to restock, and we needed to get some young talent in.”
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