WASHINGTON -- Davey Martinez’s Saturday night declaration has a broader application.
“We’ve got to regroup,” Martinez said after a second consecutive loss to Atlanta.
Washington scored one run combined in the first two games of the series. Its pitching wasn’t much better. Max Scherzer didn’t look as sharp as his previous outing, the bullpen chopped up Austin Voth’s quality outing, the Nationals needed to win Sunday just to have a break-even week.
They did, beating the Braves 7-0. Atlanta starter Max Fried dominated them the last time he pitched (seven innings, one hit, no runs, nine strikeouts). Not so Sunday. He lasted just 2 ⅓ innings, allowed five runs, then was removed from the game. It turned into a day of salvage. Remaining is a two-week run against the clock.
The final road trips of the season begin Monday night in St. Louis with three games against the Cardinals. St. Louis is one of the best defensive teams in the league. Its offense is 12th in OPS. Its team ERA is second -- and includes the best bullpen ERA in the National League. The week ends with the opposite: a visit to Miami for three games. Thinking at the start of the season which argued Miami could determine postseason participants turned out correct. At least to a degree. Washington is 13-3 against the miserable Marlins. A weekend sweep would put it 13 games over .500 against a single opponent this season. That would be the Nationals’ best record against a division foe since 2012, surpassing a 15-4 run against the Mets in 2014 and the same record against Atlanta in 2016.
All the positive work against Miami, as well as through June, July and August, has taken lumps in September. The Nationals are 6-8 in the month. Two of the season’s eight shutouts have come in the first two weeks of September. Kurt Suzuki is hurt. Matt Adams is hurt. Gerardo Parra’s plate magic has run out (but been replaced by that of Asdrúbal Cabrera). The bullpen remains a logistical challenge. And part of that includes Sean Doolittle still not looking right.
Yet, the Nationals start the week with a lead and desperate to run out the clock. Fourteen games to go, two weeks, two road trips, then a weighted final week at home. Their lead is slight. Chicago is 1 ½ games back for the right to host the wild-card game. Milwaukee is a game from entering it. Those two teams are about to diverge in schedule difficulty.
Milwaukee, which has won nine of 10, waltzes into four final series all against sub-.500 teams, including two of the worst teams in the National League. First, is four home games against San Diego. A weekend series against the checked-out Pirates follows. Then, a final week on the road: at Cincinnati and at Colorado.
Chicago is blessed with series against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, too. However, in between is seven games with St. Louis. Which means the National League Central race will remain chaotic until the end.
The Nationals have a more difficult remaining schedule. After three in St. Louis and a weekend visit to Miami, they host Philadelphia for five in four days, then Cleveland (87-63) for three. It’s not only clogged, but the three of the four opponents are above .500 and in the playoff hunt.
So, now is the time to regroup. The remaining schedule and situation leaves little choice.
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