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This time, closer Sean Doolittle costs the Nationals a game

This time, closer Sean Doolittle costs the Nationals a game

NEW YORK -- The Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 6-1, Wednesday to drop their record to 19-30. Here are five observations from the game...

1.  What to say when the only person to trust can’t deliver?

That’s the status for these Washington Nationals, now 11 games under .500 after Sean Doolittle's worst outing since arriving in Washington, sliding further and further away, unable to stumble into wins and only capable of hunting down ways to lose.

A night after curious bullpen usage which delivered yet another wrenching loss, and was followed Wednesday afternoon by a pep-talk focused team meeting, manager Davey Martinez dispatched his knee-quaking posse of relievers in superior fashion.

Joe Ross opened the seventh with an out. Matt Grace followed with two. Six outs to go in a 1-0 game for the league’s worst bullpen.

Kyle Barraclough started the eighth. He struck out J.D. Davis. Adeiny Hechavarria doubled, though the ball should have been caught by Juan Soto. Pete Alonso grounded out. Todd Frazier came to the plate and options arrived. A mound visit was followed by a four-pitch walk to Frazier. Doolittle entered the game to face light-hitting veteran Carlos Gomez. Stomach-churning chaos followed.

Doolittle hit Gomez with his first pitch -- his first beaned batter of the year and first since May 29, 2018. Juan Lagares doubled two pitches later to clear the bases. Wilson Ramos was intentionally walked. Pinch-hitter Rajai Davis hit a three-run homer two pitches into his at-bat.

That was the end for Doolittle, who walked off the mound with a stunned look. The one reliable piece in the league’s worst bullpen had as disastrous a night as possible, flushing Max Scherzer’s start, throwing aside rare quality work from other relievers, sending the Nationals to their fourth consecutive loss in this can’t-get-right season.

What followed was a stupefied clubhouse beginning to process just how dire the situation is on May 22.

Adam Eaton wondered where answers are and said they need to come now.

“We need to do something different sooner rather than later,” Eaton said. “We've talked about this for weeks now. Just haven't been playing good baseball.”

Martinez said he was “shocked” by Doolittle’s off-kilter outing.

“I tell them all the time: This thing will turn around,” Martinez said. “It’s going to turn around. But we have to believe that it will. We have to will it. It’s time that we just believe that we’re good enough to play here, cause we are. And we’ve got to make it happen. We’ve got to make things happen. And stay strong. Stay together. Stay strong. Pull for your teammates. And this thing will turn around.”

Doolittle had a hard time wrapping his head around his rare 12-pitch crumbling.

“I don't know, it's tough and it's a tough spot to come in and the context of how our season's going it hurts you even more,” Doolittle said. “To have Max pitch so well tonight and the guys grind it out....shoot I don't know. I'm really frustrated. I'm disgusted with myself and I let the team down. And it hurts.”

Scherzer was stern in his comments about a spiraling season.

“When you face adversity, this is when you reveal yourself,” Scherzer said. “Whether you have the mental fortitude to come back and you can block out all the negativity that's probably going to surround us right now. You've got to come forward to the game with that positive attitude of knowing what you can control and that you have the right mindset that you're going to go out there and compete and compete at 100 percent. You have to think of all the little things you can do.”

There were those two words again: “little things.” They have conspired against the Nationals this year, undermining an-almost $200 million payroll, increasingly putting the manager’s future in jeopardy and ratcheting up calls for sweeping change. There’s been nothing little about them, and nothing the Nationals have figured out on the field or off to stop them from snuffing out the year before the season is even close to half done.

2. Scherzer needed 109 pitches to make it through six innings. The most important of those was his final one. The 11-pitch sixth gave the Nationals three fewer outs to pawn off on the bullpen. Scherzer opened the inning at 98 pitches before briskly working through Todd Frazier, Carlos Gomez and Juan Lagares.

He allowed four hits, struck out nine and walked two. The night drove Scherzer’s ERA down to 3.41. It all mattered little in the end.

“You just take it inning by inning, try to execute pitches,” Scherzer said. “I thought tonight I had a good inning out of the windup, had a good rocker step, and there were some pitches that I threw tonight that I executed well because I was nice and tall throughout my delivery. It kind of let me be able to pick up some consistency kind of early in the game and late in the game. When my delivery is right, and my slot is in the right spot, that’s when I execute all my pitches. So I felt like I was in better position tonight overall than I have been in the past.”

Why was Scherzer back to the mound after 98 pitches in five innings? Because of losses six weeks ago, three weeks ago, last week and this week. A team 10 games under .500 has to squeeze everything it can out of its ace on May 22. Time for a margin of error has eroded. What happened back then (losing series to Miami, for instance) piles up to have a grand influence on later.

3. Grace has been used as a matchup left-hander recently. He’s found that life more appealing.

Grace matched up with Cubs left-hander Anthony Rizzo and recorded an out Sunday. He faced Robinson Cano on Tuesday to pick up a ground out. Wednesday, Grace was brought in to face left-handed pinch-hitter Dominic Smith. Smith grounded out to first. Grace remained in to face Amed Rosario and recorded another ground ball out.

The Nationals are trying to put Grace in spots to get his feet back on the ground after a night as the punching bag at the end of a blowout loss against the Chicago Cubs last Friday (and a down season overall). So far, this role has been better.

4. Remember the extended minor-league assignments for after players were hurt? That’s gone. And the results are not great.

Matt Adams was activated Wednesday. Adrian Sanchez was sent to Double-A Harrisburg to make room on the 25-man roster.

Adams did all his rehabilitation work with the major-league team. He took batting practice on the field and in the batting cages before that. He also took ground balls and infield practice. What he didn’t do was go on a minor-league assignment despite not playing since May 3. The Nationals judged him ready to play because his swing looked in place against a pitching machine.

Wednesday, he made a crucial error in the first inning. Robinson Cano rolled a small ground ball to first, Adams fielded, pivoted and threw toward second base, where the runner on first was heading. The ball never came close to the bag. It went to the outfield instead, which presented the Mets with runners on second and third and one out instead of a runner on first and one out (or a chance at a longshot double play). It, most importantly, cost Scherzer more pitches.

Scherzer pitched his way out of it as he often has this season. He came into the game leading the league in FIP (fielding-independent pitching).

Trea Turner played just two games for Triple-A Potomac after missing seven weeks. Asked how many games he would have preferred to play there, Turner said one. He made two wayward throws his first game back with the Nationals.

So, instantly putting these guys back on the field -- which is every player’s preference and a spot the Nationals’ record has leveraged them into -- is not ideal.

5.  Kyle McGowin will start Friday. His visit to the rotation is expected to be temporary.

McGowin will pitch in Jeremy Hellickson’s spot. He was up to give length in the bullpen. Like Erick Fedde, he’ll be drawn away from the relievers to fill a rotation spot.

McGowin is a sinker-ball pitcher. He made one start at the end of last season. He also is currently suspended by the Pacific Coast League after a substance was found in his glove following an inspection by umpires during his last outing.

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Why Nationals fans should be rooting for the Yankees in the ALCS

Why Nationals fans should be rooting for the Yankees in the ALCS

The Nationals wrapping up the NL Championship Series in a sweep has given them an unusually long break of six days before Game 1 of the World Series takes place Tuesday night. That has allowed the team and their fans to stop and soak in the glory of making it this far. It also gives plenty of time to watch the ALCS and consider Washington's next opponent.

When it comes to that, Nationals should have one clear, if undesirable, option. That is to root for the New York Yankees.

Yes, the team everyone loves to hate, the Evil Empire, the team with more bandwagon fans maybe than anyone else in sports. In a sense, the Yankees don't deserve going to the World Series as much as the Houston Astros, as they have won more championships than anyone else. But they also probably represent the Nats' best path towards getting their first.

The Astros, though more likeable than the Yankees, are also better. They are a superteam devoid of weaknesses. They would meet the Nationals in the World Series with an advantage in just about every single category. Their lineup is better, their defense is better, their pitching staff as a whole is better and their manager is more experienced. They won a World Series just two years ago and are arguably better now than they were then.

Even their starting rotation, one could argue, is at least as good if not better than that of the Nationals. They may be the only team in baseball that can match the triumvirate of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin with an equally-imposing trio of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. Not to mention their vastly superior bullpen.

The Yankees, meanwhile, also have a better lineup and bullpen than the Nationals. But they don't have the rotation the Nationals do. They only had one starter this season post a sub-4.00 ERA and that was James Paxton, who has already allowed four runs in seven innings so far this postseason.

The Nationals' rotation would be a clear strength against the Yankees' and would be the ideal counter to New York's best asset, a power-hitting lineup led by Aaron Judge, D.J. LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton. And while Stanton has given the Nationals nightmares for many years, he is not 100 percent healthy due to a quadriceps strain.

There are also some good narratives in a potential Nationals-Yankees series, for those who are interested in those sorts of things. For one, the last time a D.C. baseball team made the World Series, back in 1933, they played a New York team, the Giants. In fact, the Senators beat the Giants in 1924 to capture Washington's only World Series title.

There is also an angle many Nationals fans may dismiss, but will be a factor for some. Before the Nats arrived in Washington, generations of baseball fans in Washington grew up rooting for the Baltimore Orioles. And not only were those fans trained to view the Yankees as rivals, many were scarred by the 1996 ALCS when a young fan named Jeffrey Maier reached out to catch a fly ball in Game 1 that should not have been a home run. To many baseball fans in this area, it cost their favorite team a chance to play in the World Series.

Playing New York would also give fans an easier way to travel to road games. The drive to New York is only about four hours via car or bus, and the train is even faster. Yankee Stadium would likely have a good amount of red in the crowd.

Travel considerations and media storylines aside, the most important goal for the Nationals is to win four more games and capture the team's first World Series title. Playing the Yankees increases the likelihood of that happening at least a little bit.

It's like a prescription with adverse side effects that is essential for a patient. Nationals fans should know what to do as they watch the ALCS. Just maybe hold your nose as you wash it down.

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Everything we know about the Nationals' World Series schedule (so far)

Everything we know about the Nationals' World Series schedule (so far)

The Nationals are going to the World Series. Everybody knows that by now. But how and when you can watch the Nationals play is becoming clearer by the day.

The first two games will be played in either Yankee Stadium or Minute Maid Park, depending on whether the Yankees or Astros win the American League Championship Series. Game 1 will be on Tuesday, Oct. 22, while Game 2 will be Wednesday, Oct. 23.

Games 3 and 4 will be at Nationals Park on Friday, Oct. 25 and Sunday, Oct. 26, respectively. If necessary, Game 5 will also be played at Nationals Park on Sunday, Oct. 27. A Game 5 would be the last game the Nationals host this season.

Games 6 and 7, if necessary, would be at the American League representative's ballpark on Tuesday, Oct. 29 and Wednesday, Oct. 30, respectively.

All games will be broadcast on FOX.

World Series Schedule:

Tuesday, Oct. 22:
- World Series Game 1: Nationals at ALCS Winner. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Wednesday, Oct. 23:
- World Series Game 2: Nationals at ALCS Winner. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Friday, Oct. 25:
- World Series Game 3. ALCS Winner at Nationals. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Saturday, Oct. 26: 
- World Series Game 4. ALCS Winner at Nationals. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Sunday, Oct. 27: 
- World Series Game 5*. ALCS Winner at Nationals. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Monday, Oct. 29: 
- World Series Game 6*. Nationals at ALCS Winner. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

Tuesday, Oct. 30:
- World Series Game 7*. Nationals at ALCS Winner. Time: TBD. TV Channel: FOX.

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