When Bryce Harper left the Nationals to go to the Phillies in free agency in 2019, it was a blow to the Nationals. That was evident early in the 2019 season when they got off to a slow start. The team turned things around, though, and ended up making the playoffs and ultimately winning the first World Series title in franchise history by outlasting ace pitcher Gerrit Cole and the Houston Astros. In the wake of the championship, the Nationals have done something unusual that may not have been done previously.
The Nationals’ slow start to 2019
The Nationals were just one game over .500 by the end of June at 42-41. Their low point came on May 24, when they were 12 games below .500 and 10 games out of first place in the National League East. The ineptitude of the Miami Marlins was the one thing keeping the Nationals out of the NL East basement. The postseason, let alone a World Series title, seemed highly unlikely at best.
Among the reasons for the slow start was the struggles of 2B Brian Dozier, who hit under .200 for the first two months of the season. As a team, they hit .254 in the first half of 2019. But the bullpen was their biggest weakness early in the season, with their relievers posting a 6.08 ERA in the first half.
The midseason turnaround and postseason run
The team turned things around in June by going 18-8. They ended up with a 46-27 record in the second half of the season, thanks in part to their batting average jumping up to .278 after the break.
The bullpen also improved after the team made some moves, including releasing Trevor Rosenthal and trading for Daniel Hudson and Hunter Strickland. The bullpen’s ERA improved by about 0.75 in the second half, going to 5.24. The Nationals ended up finishing second in the division with a 93-69 record, and they earned one of the NL’s wild cards.
Stephen Strasburg led them to a win against the Brewers in the Wild Card Game, and they needed five games to get past the Dodgers in the NLDS before sweeping the Cardinals in the NLCS.
The World Series against the Astros and their dominant pitching staff went seven games, with the road team winning each game for the first time in Series history. The Nationals won Game 7, 6-2, behind a strong start from Max Scherzer and home runs off the bats of Anthony Rendon and Howie Kendrick.
The Nationals’ unique World Series shares
When a team wins the World Series, it gets a certain amount of money to split among the players. This year, the pot was $29 million, which the team could split however it wanted. As first-time champs, the Nationals took a unique approach to dividing the money.
The Nationals gave out 61 full shares — each valued at $382,358.18 — with 14.13 partial shares and two cash awards. There were so many shares because the team included scouts and minor-league personnel in the group of folks receiving shares.
Adding so many people to the pool significantly lowers the amount of each share, but it provides a nice bonus for the scouts and minor-league personnel, who don’t make salaries close to those of the MLB players. Giving the scouts and others full playoff shares from the players’ pool is so unique that manager Davey Martinez, who has been involved with the league for a long time, says it’s the first time he’s heard of a team doing that.
It’s a classy move by the Nationals, who may be hoping it starts a trend of future championship teams also including their minor league staffers in their distribution of playoff shares. It is well-noted that Minor League Baseball doesn’t give players and staffers high salaries, so getting playoff bonuses is significant for them.