What Can The Nationals Learn From The 2018-19 St. Louis Blues?
Let’s take a flashback to January 2019. The St. Louis Blues, touted before the season to be a Stanley Cup contender, are struggling mightily and hovering towards the cellar of the league, even reaching dead last in the entire NHL at a certain point. They were dead – fans were calling for their coach, Mike Yeo, to be fired, and rumors were abuzz of potential trades for their top players.
As fans of the Washington Nationals, does this situation sound familiar?
The Blues, after making the necessary moves, ended up going on a hot streak. That St. Louis team, in last place halfway through the season, is now playing in their first Stanley Cup final
since 1970. They overcame all the odds to turn their season around from being another disappointment for St. Louis hockey fans to one which could potentially bring Missouri it’s first ever Stanley Cup.
The truth is that the Nationals are in a very similar situation to that of the Blues in January. Although not dead last in the MLB or in their division (thanks, Marlins), the Nationals have not been good at all. Their bullpen ERA ranks last in the league, and even on days where aces like Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin have outstanding performances, the offense doesn’t pick up the slack. Plenty of Nationals fans are ready for manager Davey Martinez to be fired, and we were collectively disappointed when the MLB app gave us an alert of potential trade destinations for Anthony Rendon last week. The Blues and Nats also have unique post-win traditions, as the Blues play the 1982 song “Gloria” by Laura Branigan following each win, and the Nationals celebrate wins by smashing cabbage in the locker room. Although being in a similar situation as the Blues were doesn’t automatically spell future success, the circumstances are eerily similar. So what can the Nationals do to mimic the success of the St. Louis Blues and flip the script on the season?
The first order of business that the Blues took care of was axing their head coach, Mike Yeo. Yeo was a top coaching commodity, and was picked up by the Blues after he was fired by the
Minnesota Wild. But in St. Louis, Yeo never lived up to the expectations set by management and he had a year and a half of disappointing results. In the Nationals’ case, Davey Martinez was a highly touted managerial prospect who was signed to a three year contract after serving as Joe Maddon’s second-in-command in both Tampa and Chicago. But as in Yeo’s situation, it never panned out for him in Washington and the hire looks like a failed venture. It’s time to fire the head coach, just as the Blues did. Yeo was replaced by Craig Berube, an assistant coach for the Blues who struggled at first but ended up leading St. Louis to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Nationals could make a similar move after firing Martinez by promoting Randy Knorr, a figure who has been with the organization since its founding in 2005 and currently the manager of the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies, to the helm of the Nationals. He is seen as a likely interim manager if and when Martinez is fired by the Nationals, so it isn’t too outlandish to call for Knorr to take over the Nationals.
By the January benchmark when the Blues started to turn their season around, calls were being made to trade their better players – it was looking like the solid core created by St. Louis’s management was going to be disassembled after two disappointing seasons. However, after the coaching change sparked the team, the Blues team stayed the same, no one got traded, and look where they are now. Trading-wise, baseball and hockey are very different sports. Hockey teams have less extensive prospect pools to tap into, and baseball does not allow the trading of draft picks. However, if the Nationals replace Martinez with Knorr, maybe it’s worth leaving the team as it is today to see if the deep core can turn it around. On paper, like the Blues, the Nats should have started this season (and finished last season) as an elite team. The hitting core and starting rotation needs no introduction, with former All-Stars and award winners at almost every position. Even the bullpen shouldn’t be this bad – Sean Doolittle, Kyle Barraclough, Trevor Rosenthal, and Koda Glover have all had stellar seasons in the past. If the Nationals were to follow the Blues’ lead, they should keep the team as is, and maybe the Nats will heat up and have a successful 2019 season.
In the end, will the Nationals’ season turn out like the Blues’ one? Likely not. That being said, the Blues’ Stanley Cup odds were at +6900 in January, and look at them now. Although some would take this season as unsalvageable, if the Nationals take some of the steps outlined here, they might be able to right the ship and go on to succeed for the rest of the season and bring a title back home to Washington.