The Nationals are staring straight down the barrel of a 1-5 start Wednesday as they get set to take on the Blue Jays, and for obvious reasons, Washington will want to avoid losing five of their first six games.
But in the not-so-obvious category, the Nationals are at risk of joining a select group of defending World Series champions to get out to such a bleak start. Only two teams in the last 25 years won the World Series and then started 1-5 the next season: The 1998 Marlins and the 2019 Red Sox.
In the Marlins' case, they gutted their roster after winning the 1997 World Series and ultimately lost 108 games the following season. Florida's 1-5 start was part of an 11-game losing streak, the longest skid for a defending champion in the history of the game. When you look at how the first six games went, it serves as a solid predictor for how the team performed all season long.
1998 MARLINS (first six games)
4.33 runs per game
-17 run differential
The Red Sox decided to run it back, re-signing Nathan Eovaldi to a four-year, $56 million contract despite two prior Tommy John surgeries. Two key players they didn't bring back were relievers Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel, and boy did they miss them. Their bullpen had the seventh-worst ERA in the American League while their starters came in ninth-worst among Al staffs.
Boston got out to a dreadful start and remained inconsistent throughout the year. Their lineup was the most productive in baseball, but their pitching staff was quite the opposite.
2019 RED SOX (first six games)
4.0 runs per game
-18 run differential
The Nationals probably don't have to worry about finishing last in the NL East. They didn't gut their team similar Florida did and they don't have to worry about their pitching staff combusting like Boston's did last year.
Washington's already promising pitching staff should improve even more once Strasburg returns to the rotation full time, while the offensive struggles should fade when Juan Soto eventually gets cleared to return to the lineup.
2020 NATIONALS (5 games)
2.8 runs per game
-4 run differential
Still, they should try to avoid the 1-5 start just to dodge the bad company. We've mentioned Florida's 108-loss season, and once the 2019 season concluded for Boston, they fired President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski and later traded Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers of all teams. It might be important to note that both the '98 Marlins and '19 Red Sox were led by Dombrowski.
So will the Nationals improve to a more comfortable 2-4 on the year against a Blue Jays pitcher making his major-league debut, or will they fall to 1-5 and be doomed to a last-place finish that will cause them to trade their best player to the Dodgers in the offseason? Just kidding, those last two things won't happen.
Or will they?
Small-sample-size theater only deals in absolutes.
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