The Nationals packed slowly Sunday after blowing out Milwaukee. They were all heading to the same bus at 5:45 p.m., marooned in the clubhouse without an excuse for escape -- family, fatigue or just feeling like it.
Another laborious but fulfilling weekend was over. The team played more than nine hours of baseball in a 22-hour span. Davey Martinez said his feet hurt. The position players stood in the unrelenting sun all Sunday -- except for Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon, recipients of an early departure during the blowout -- before finding relieve in the clubhouse air conditioning.
Next is four games in Pittsburgh and three in Chicago. The Pirates have crashed since the All-Star break. Only Miami has a worse overall record in the National League. Chicago is in the thick of the wild-card and National League Central races. The Cubs hold the second wild-card slot by two games despite being 4-6 in their last 10. They are .001 percentage points behind St. Louis for the division lead.
Joe Ross starts things Monday for the Nationals. His ERA by month this season: 3.86, 14.85, 36.00, 8.10, 0.50. Things are better, to say the least. Ross has been able to maintain his velocity but also add movement to his two-seam fastball. He pitches up on occasion and deploys his curveball more often.
Monday will be Ross’ final start before the Nationals have to decide who will remain in the rotation because of Max Scherzer’s “probable” return Thursday. Erick Fedde had a decent outing Sunday. If Ross pitches well again Monday, he seems to have the inside track to the fifth starter spot. That doesn’t mean Fedde is going back to Triple-A Fresno or Double-A Harrisburg. Martinez mentioned he expects the organization to find a way to keep Fedde around, which could mean being the long man in the bullpen.
Stephen Strasburg follows on Tuesday, Patrick Corbin is next, Scherzer is expected to finish the series in Pittsburgh. Which makes Ross’ outing that much more important. If he pitches well and the team wins Monday, they are set up for the remaining three games.
That’s not the case in Chicago. The Nationals will deal with a turnaround that only happens if a team is going to play the Cubs. Following a final night game in Pittsburgh, Washington flies to Chicago for a 1:20 p.m. local start. The Cubs, on the other hand, play a home day game Thursday. This is a byproduct of the city ordinance which limits the number of night games at Wrigley Field. It’s also a part of poor scheduling on the other side by Major League Baseball.
There’s another scheduling quirk to be cognizant of: Atlanta has played 126 games, Washington 123. That three-game gap will not be closed until the final week of the season when Washington plays eight games in seven days and Atlanta is off twice. So, though, the Nationals are 5 ½ games behind the Braves in the National League East, it’s important to note they are four back in the loss column with three games in hand. The gap is more modest than it may seem.
First, off to Pittsburgh.
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