With the Nationals at Spring Training: Maintaining clubhouse chemistry

The Nationals ‘Circle of Trust’ was one of the many keys that helped last year’s club earn an A in team chemistry. (WTOP/Dave Preston)

While the Washington Nationals were propelled by starting pitching that posted the third-best ERA in the majors and a lineup that ranked second in batting average and runs scored, many close to the team felt the clubhouse chemistry was a key factor in going from 19-31 in May to a championship parade in November.

“When one guy doesn’t do the job, the next guy picks him up,” Manager Davey Martinez said before the World Series. “You watch them go down the line, they pat each other on the back — ‘Hey, we got you, don’t worry.'”

Chemistry in the clubhouse is a tricky thing. If anybody could create it, everybody would have it. It’s not a Chia Pet, for heaven’s sake. How have things become so good for the Nats?

It wasn’t always this way. From players reportedly being shipped out for leaking to the press, dugout scuffles between Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper, to the famed Mike Rizzo quote, “If you’re not in, you’re in the way,” it has taken a while for the phalanx to come together.

When you spend February through October together, the team has to be together.

“At the end of the day, nobody understands what goes on in a clubhouse except the 25 guys and the coaching staff that are in here,” catcher Yan Gomes said. “There’s nothing like it, and truly the biggest reason why we won last year is because of how much we enjoyed being around each other.”

For this team, it starts with the “Circle of Trust”. Whatever happens inside the circle stays in the circle, Martinez said.

When things got bad last spring and it looked like the team was sinking, the players didn’t jump ship. Instead, they began to bail each other out.

“We were all very open with each other,” Gomes said. “Whatever little things were going on, we were able to cut them out right away — cut out distractions — and made sure that whatever happened it stayed in here and we were battling for each other in here.”

Perhaps the fact that this was the oldest roster in baseball last season gave some clarity and focus to what was really important: trying to go 1-0 every day while not letting one loss bleed into the next day.

“Just the mix of veterans and young players and just the attitude,” infielder Howie Kendrick said. “There’s no selfish guys here and everybody wants to win. There’s a chemistry here that we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Baseball’s regular season is the longest (162 games), while the playoff field is the most exclusive among the major four sports (10 of 30, or 33%).

Fighting through the dog days of summer (and for those who live in the D.C. area, August can get particularly hound-ish) is no easy task, and knowing that the clubhouse is a fountain of positive vibes makes the grind a little easier.

“It’s great when you get to the field every day and you’re just happy to be hear and don’t feel like you’re working,” Michael A. Taylor said. “And it helps on the field too, having that camaraderie and just trusting one another.”

Unfortunately for any team in MLB, you can’t bring everyone back. While we know the Nats will miss Anthony Rendon’s bat and glove as well as the contributions of Brian Dozier and Gerardo Parra (earworm alert — “Baby Shark”), we can’t yet size up the intangible loss of those three as well as others on the 2019 team not coming back.

Sometimes the absence of one minor ingredient can change a whole recipe.

“When we finished Game Seven, it was one of those things where we knew that everyone wasn’t going to be back,” outfielder Adam Eaton said. “Which kind of saddened all of us because you’re with those people for so long it’s part of your family.”

But with most of the parts coming back, the 2020 Nationals should earn another solid grade for team chemistry.

Will it be another A? Ask me in October.

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