The Nationals left Camden Yards on Sunday without two key players, with a series win and saddled with ongoing unevenness.
Davey Martinez used his hands instead of words to display the team’s up-and-down phenomenon this season. He waved them around on a postgame Zoom call, delivering the gestures to summarize everything that has occurred since workouts began July 3. Scheduling problems, starts and stops, injuries, good baseball, bad baseball.
They left Baltimore and boarded a plane for the first time this season with an 8-11 record. That’s a .421 winning percentage after 31.7 percent of the season.
They were 19-31 -- a.380 winning percentage -- after 30.9 percent of the season last year. Players were hurt, their play was vacillated, the ground to make up was vast.
This is not as bad. Especially with the expanded postseason looming. Though, it’s still not smooth.
“We’re kind of playing seesaw baseball, really,” Martinez said. “We’ve got to get on a roll. We’ve got to get Adam Eaton hitting. We’ve got to get [Eric] Thames swinging the bat. We start getting those guys hitting... We’ve got to get Howie [Kendrick] back in the lineup when he’s fully healthy.
“When we get those guys back, we start scoring runs, then we’ve got to worry about our starting pitchers going 6-7 innings like Max [Scherzer] did [Sunday]. I like where our bullpen’s been throwing the ball. We’ve just got to get them the ball. We’ve just got to hang in there. This is a weird season. It’s strange. But I tell the boys: We go 1-0 every day and show up to the ballpark, let’s bang heads and do the best we can and come out with a victory.”
The Nationals are three games out of first place at this juncture. They also would not be one of the eight teams to participate in the expanded postseason. Eleven teams have a better winning percentage. However, four of those teams have played fewer games. The 4-4 Cardinals have played just eight and will deal with a crushing schedule going forward. The 9-6 Marlins have inexplicably kept their head above water with a ragtag group of players, many of which were not in the majors before this season. The Marlins have scored the fewest runs among the 29 teams which have played with semi-regularity. They have the sixth-best team ERA. They will start losing soon, and often.
The Braves have a winning record, but numerous injuries. Philadelphia has a terrible bullpen -- again. The Mets....yeah.
The Dodgers are 16-7 and a staggering plus-60 in run differential. They appear to be a juggernaut.
The Nationals are concerned with themselves, per usual. Erick Fedde will suddenly have a large role because of Stephen Strasburg’s trip to the injured list. Half the lineup is 23 years old or younger. Kendrick’s tight hamstrings kept him from playing during the weekend. He could be back Monday night. Sean Doolittle is trying to fix himself at the alternate training site in Fredericksburg. Starlin Castro’s wrist fracture has likely ended his season.
“It's just an opportunity for other guys to step up,” Scherzer said. “Don't get me wrong -- Stras and Starlin Castro, those were guys we were really counting on and we know what they can mean to us. Hopefully we can get Strasburg right. Sounds like with Castro that's going to be a little bit longer injury. García can step up, Fedde can step up. Here's an opportunity for other guys you might not of thought of that can do some big things for us, and they have an opportunity to go out there and play baseball.
“That's the exciting part, to have other guys step up and have success. That's the mark of a true winning ball club is that it's not just the guys you think are going to do it, it's everybody around you that's going out there grinding and finding ways to have success. When you have that happen, that's the real sign of the team. So, if we do get those guys back, it just makes us a better ball club.”
If. It’s a big factor in this season. If the team can stay healthy, both as it relates to the virus and on-field injuries. If the bullpen can hold up. If the starters can be in games longer. If Eaton can join a heated-up Trea Turner. If they can be more consistent. If, if, if.