Clarity? Nope. Not after another manic weekend in the National League wild-card race.
Ugliness? Well, that showed up again in Citi Field for the Nationals. Two late losses, a dropped series, the Mets continuing to surge until Sunday’s 7-4 Washington win allowed the Nationals to scamper out of Flushing with some form of breath still intact.
They come home to open a three-game series against Cincinnati with a wild-card spot in hand, fingers crossed about Juan Soto’s health and 45 games to play. Three teams are within two games of a wild-card position, including the Mets and Phillies. Good news for Washington: it plays three more games against the Mets -- none in New York -- and five more against Philadelphia. Those all arrive in a daunting September which includes seven against the first-place Braves. Also in the offing: series against NL Central contenders/wild-card candidates Milwaukee, St. Louis and Chicago. Not available: rest.
Washington opens another series without Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick or Max Scherzer. Soto’s swollen ankle may remove him from the lineup for a day or two despite his insistence otherwise. There is some good news around the trio’s current negative situation. Zimmerman did more work over the weekend and could run the bases this week. Scherzer said he felt better Sunday after throwing -- stay tuned for a Monday update on his situation. X-Rays of Soto’s ankle were negative, suggesting RICE and time could swiftly return him to the lineup.
Without Scherzer, the Nationals turn to their guys who are supposed to be dueling for the No. 5 spot in the rotation but are currently the No. 4 and No. 5 starters. Erick Fedde opens the series against Cincinnati, Joe Ross follows and Stephen Strasburg finishes it. Again, everything here is tenuous. Fedde and Ross were better in their last starts. Also part of the reality is Fedde’s 5.23 FIP and Ross’ equally egregious 5.18 FIP. Neither has pitched well for any substantial amount of time. Without Scherzer, the Nationals are just trying to steal starts.
If Scherzer returns this weekend and remains healthy, the Nationals could have him to face the Mets once, Atlanta twice and the Phillies once in September. Targeting that month was the plan from when Scherzer’s first mid-back strain slowed him in July. Washington wants to line him up for those series as much as possible. However, the calendar is moot if Scherzer is not healthy.
He’s not -- yet.
One benefit Monday for the Nationals is Cincinnati pitches right-hander Anthony DeSclafani. That helps left-handers Matt Adams and Gerardo Parra, who have been forced into every-day work because of injuries. The Reds throw left-handed Alex Wood in the second game Tuesday night and right-hander Trevor Bauer in the third on Wednesday afternoon.
Slogging through April and May assured a mid-August series against a sub-.500 team would carry weight. The crowded standings and recent injury clump have put even more emphasis on what could have been three dog-day games against an inferior opponent. No longer. It’s tight, every day, and that starts again Monday.
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