Why the Cubs have rebounded and the Nationals have not

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Eddie Matz

ShutESPN Senior AuthorEddie Matz covers the Washington Nationals and the world of Main League Baseball for ESPN.com. He is been writing for ESPN since 2002, and is a graduate of the College of Pennsylvania.

Jesse Rogers

ShutESPN Workers AuthorJesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers the Chicago Cubs for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN Radio 1000.

On April 21, the Cubs and Nationals had been each sitting at .500. Regardless of their mediocre begins, and regardless of taking part in in top-heavy divisions with improved rivals, each groups had respectable playoff odds: Per FanGraphs, Chicago was at 51 %, and Washington was at 74 %. Precisely 4 weeks later and after splitting two video games between them with a date on Sunday Night time Baseball looming, the Cubs are rolling (with their odds clocking in above 80 %), and the Nats are reeling (at 44 %). We requested ESPN scribes Jesse Rogers and Eddie Matz to interrupt down the interior workings of the 2 golf equipment. They kindly obliged.


ROGERS: The Cubs merely have constructed a tradition during which shedding is now not an choice. Now, that does not imply they will win each sport — see the tip of final season — nevertheless it does imply they’re extra possible than to not get again right into a race. From the surface trying in, it does not appear that the Nats have that form of vibe. Anthony Rizzo mentioned it not too long ago: a pleasant, successful season is nice for a workforce such because the Padres. Not for the Cubs anymore. The place are the Nationals by way of this raised degree of play, for which the ground is a playoff look?

MATZ: After a disappointing 2018 season and an much more disappointing begin to 2019, Washington’s ground has bottomed out like that carnival trip on which you and your buddies all persist with the partitions (I consider it is known as “The Rotor,” if reminiscence serves). Heck, today, the Nats are thrilled simply to win a collection, one thing they did Thursday for the primary time in a month. Between besting the Giants again in mid-April and taking two of three from the Mets earlier this week, Washington misplaced seven straight collection, together with one to the Marlins (Miami’s solely collection win this season). By means of all of it, supervisor Davey Martinez, who apprenticed underneath one Joseph John Maddon Jr. earlier than taking the helm in D.C. final yr, stored saying how proud he was of his gamers. Think about how proud he’ll be if the Nats can begin successful with any form of consistency.

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ROGERS: Properly, if it is successful collection you are in search of, you’ve got come to the precise place. The Cubs simply misplaced their first one in a very long time. Earlier than the Reds took two of three earlier this week, Chicago had gone 9-Zero-1 in its previous 10 collection. The important thing to it has been a beginning rotation taking up video games. That is one other perplexing factor concerning the Nats. On paper, theirs is a good workers — within the winter, it was in all probability thought of higher than the Cubs’ — nevertheless it hasn’t translated to extra wins for you guys. One different factor motivating the Cubs is the division they’re in. They understand how aggressive it is going to be all summer time and have made a degree of reminding themselves of that always. It is a robust division. Sound acquainted?

MATZ: First issues first: I don’t play for the Nationals (you guys?). But when I did, I would actually be second-guessing all of the success my workforce had the previous few years. Now that the division is extra just like the NL Beast than the NL Least, all these wins and playoff appearances appear much less a product of “Natitude” and extra a perform of foes’ flatitude. Having mentioned all that, although Scherzer has but to kick into classic Mad Max mode, it is hardly his fault that his mates are giving him the deGrom remedy to this point this season. I will nonetheless take him, Strasburg and Corbin over any large three in baseball. As for the opposite 20 or so guys on the roster, it is slightly extra sophisticated.


ROGERS: That is the place management has to play a task. In case your greatest gamers are additionally your greatest leaders, supervisor X has it as straightforward because it comes. When a veteran position man is your greatest chief, that may work as effectively. The situation that may not work is when your greatest participant is something BUT an excellent chief. That is really why yours really picked the Nats — sure, the Nats — to go to the World Sequence this yr. I used to be pondering of it this manner: Addition by subtraction. I believed — perhaps — by shedding Bryce however sustaining tons of expertise, Washington may gel. My pondering was the eye could be off them and Davey, regardless that they’re taking part in in a tricky division. I do not know a lot about Max Scherzer, nevertheless it’s exhausting to steer from the mound. So it is a good distance of asking you: The place is the management on this workforce post-Bryce?

Discover something completely different about Kris Bryant? Here is how a mid-at-bat change to an ax-handle bat helped ignite the Cubs slugger. Jesse Rogers

MATZ: Main from the mound is rare, however Scherzer’s that uncommon breed who has the résumé, cache and work ethic to tug it off. On the place facet, Howie Kendrick positively suits the vet position participant mildew. However all that clubhouse stuff does not a lot matter when the on-field product has been so persistently awful. I too thought the 2019 Nats would profit from a plus by minus state of affairs during which they did not should take care of all of the drama that surrounded Harper’s tenure within the District, particularly in recent times. However the bullpen has been brutal. Juan Soto, whose large bat was presupposed to be the insurance coverage coverage for all times after Bryce, has regarded extra like Mario Soto on the plate. And shedding Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon to accidents has been killer. That mentioned, the Yankees lead MLB in participant days misplaced (greater than twice as many as Washington), they usually’re doing simply effective. Know who else has misplaced extra time to accidents than the Nats? I will offer you a touch: It rhymes with Schmicago Schmubs.

ROGERS: Accidents? That is the least of the Cubs’ issues regardless that their nearer (Brandon Morrow) and his backup (Pedro Strop) are each out. Over the previous few months, the group has needed to navigate extra off-the-field points than most do in a decade. First, the homeowners needed to distance themselves from their father after bigoted emails related to him emerged. Then not too long ago the Cubs introduced again infielder Addison Russell after a 40-game suspension for home abuse related along with his ex-wife. He took the place of veteran Ben Zobrist, who left the workforce as he and his spouse have filed for a separation/divorce in two states. All this whereas Joe Maddon exists as a lame duck supervisor. I imply, technically, Davey Martinez has extra job safety than Maddon.


MATZ: The Nationals already fired pitching coach Derek Lilliquist earlier this month. Accidents or no accidents, there are many people round D.C. who assume the supervisor must be subsequent. Since inheriting a workforce that averaged 96 wins per season underneath his predecessor (Dusty Baker), Martinez has guided Washington to a sub-.500 report. With Turner’s return in Friday’s opener, the Nats are as complete as they have been in a protracted whereas. If they cannot get scorching with him and Rendon within the lineup (and with Scherzer & Co. atop the rotation), then the winds of change may begin blowing.

ROGERS: For the Cubs, the converse of firing Martinez could be to increase Maddon’s contract, however that in all probability is not going to occur till the tip of the season. Talking of extensions, Kris Bryant may deserve one after his efficiency Friday. He has returned to elite standing on the plate after a shoulder harm restricted him final yr, however his long-term future with the workforce is anybody’s guess. Each he and Javier Baez are going to be due generational cash sometime, and followers will probably be questioning if the Cubs will pay each.

However that is for later. For now, it is about grinding out collection wins because the schedule strikes to the second quarter of the season. The Cubs have positioned themselves properly after a gradual begin. Pulling away is perhaps tough within the NL Central division, however Chicago’s play for the reason that first 10 days of the season speaks volumes. The Cubs are to be reckoned with as soon as once more this season.

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