Everyone falls into common sayings. Not just managers. People type “LOL” or don’t; say “thanks” or “thank you”; repeat mantras learned earlier or doled out for consistency. Repetition exposes these.
Davey Martinez instructs his team to “go 1-0 every day,” then tells the media he told the team to do that. He goes 1-0 every day by mentioning it...every day. It would seem trite if the steadiness wasn’t necessary across 162 games. May 24, before the Nationals played the Marlins, he dispatched the standard ditty. They won. Since then, for three months, they have been the best team in baseball. The coming week could put them in an even better position.
Sunday brought new footnotes. Washington’s 7-5, 11-inning win in Chicago provided a sweep of the Cubs. The Nationals had not swept in Wrigley since 2005. The Cubs, one of the major league’s most dominant home teams, had not been swept at Wrigley this season.
Washington needed everything to pull it off. Daniel Hudson earned the win by pitching the 10th and 11th innings. Anthony Rendon drove in two and scored twice thanks to his four hits. He is one of four MLB players with an OPS over 1.000 (Christian Yelich, Mike Trout and Cody Bellinger are the others). Juan Soto had three hits, including a seventh-inning single to put the Nationals up 3-2.
Despite the 6-7-8 hitters combining to go 0-for-15; despite Fernando Rodney finding a way to walk free-swinging Javy Baez with two out and up two, then giving up a game-tying homer; despite Howie Kendrick and Adam Eaton not in the starting lineup, the Nationals still swept.
Now, the update for the last 80 games consists of a 54-26 burn through three months -- the best record in MLB during that span -- to position themselves as the firm wild-card leader. Atlanta has not been cooperating, though. It swept over the weekend, too. The Braves’ lead in the National League East remains a steady six games. Seven head-to-head games are coming in early September across 10 days. Washington just hopes to be within reasonable reach when a four-game series opens in SunTrust Park on Sept. 5.
Sliding away is the rest of the National League East. Philadelphia has dropped to 5 ½ games behind the Nationals. The hot-and-cold Mets were the victims of Atlanta’s sweep. They are six behind the Nationals. However, those two teams aren’t far from the second wild-card spot, 1 ½ and two games behind Chicago, respectively.
The Nationals returned from Chicago to an off-day. The combined record of their two foes this week in Nationals Park? 90-170. Baltimore shows up Tuesday for a two-game series. Another off-day arrives Thursday. The weekend welcomes Miami, the National League’s worst team, to the District. Last weeks’ seven-games-in-seven-days schedule with a terrible turnaround is not in play this week. Washington will be able to rest, face bad teams and possibly get its closer back.
Sean Doolittle went on the 10-day injured list Aug. 18. Martinez said previously Doolittle is the closer when he returns. There are several reasons to rethink that stance after watching a week without him. The Nationals do not have a potent lefty in the bullpen outside of Doolittle. If Freddie Freeman is up with nobody out in the eighth and the tying run on, will Martinez leave Doolittle in the bullpen if Daniel Hudson is available? The added bullpen pieces give Martinez an opportunity to matchup in ways he couldn’t -- and didn’t -- before Doolittle went on the injured list.
All-around, this is a week to ride gracefully through. The next seven days contain as many off-days as the month of September. Meek opponents are visiting. Missing pieces -- including Ryan Zimmerman, who has 32 minor-league at-bats done -- are healing. The Nationals can wait until rosters expand Sept. 1 to put Zimmerman back with the big club and not have to make a move with Asdrúbal Cabrera. Carter Kieboom can also be called up Sunday since he is on the 40-man roster.
But, first, the Nationals will go a day at a time. Monday will be a win because it provides rest. Tuesday? Another chance to go 1-0.
MORE NATIONALS NEWS:
- No Sweat: Martinez wasn't worried about being fired after slow start
- Stressful: Choosing a nickname isn't easy
- Soto Sweep: A very successful trip to Wrigley