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All Nats do is win

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All Nats do is win

Their closer has blown three saves and put at least two men on base in eight of his last 13 appearances. Their rookie phenom is mired in the first prolonged slump of his life, one that has lasted nearly two months. Their catchers have thrown out exactly one of the last 43 opponents who have tried to steal a base against them.Their All-Star shortstop is out until September. Their highest-paid player just returned from a three-month stint on the disabled list and already had to miss a game because his legs were tired. And their staff ace is going to be shut down for the remainder of the season in about a month.Oh, did we mention the Nationals have baseball's best record and are now on pace to win 99 games in 2012?If you prevented yourself from checking the standings over the past few weeks, you might very well have come away convinced the Nationals are in trouble. They haven't exactly played like the best team in the majors.But this might be the true confirmation of Washington's new-found status as a baseball powerhouse. Even when they're not playing their best, they're still winning more regularly than any other club in the sport.Why? Because they're loaded with superior talent, up and down the roster.The rotation isn't just Stephen Strasburg and four guys who take up space. Jordan Zimmermann has the NL's second-best ERA. Gio Gonzalez has the fourth-most strikeouts. Edwin Jackson has completed seven or more innings seven times. And Ross Detwiler, with another strong performance last night, now boasts a 2.99 ERA (ninth-best in the NL).The lineup is as deep with potent bats as just about any other in the NL. Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth ... what team wouldn't take that quintet, or sextet once Desmond returns from his oblique tear? And even when those stalwarts struggle to produce on a given night, Davey Johnson merely turns to someone else for clutch hits, whether it's Danny Espinosa (who drove in all three runs last night), Chad Tracy or Roger Bernadina.And there are few slicker-fielding clubs than this one, from Zimmerman's Gold Glove at third base to LaRoche's steadying influence at first base to Bernadina's game-saving ability in center field. (And if you saw his jaw-dropping conclusion to last night's victory in Houston, you know just how important Bernadina has become to this team.)Point is, the Nationals aren't winning games because of the contributions of one or two big names. They're winning games because night in and night out, they manage to get contributions from just about everybody on the roster.And through the season's first four months, they continue to get better.At the one-quarter pole, the Nationals were on pace to win 93 games. At the one-third pole, the pace went up to 96 wins. At the halfway mark, they were holding steady at a 96-win pace. And now that they're just surpassed the two-thirds mark, they've upped the rate to 99 wins.That's a pretty good sign. While other clubs endure through roller-coaster seasons, riding long winning streaks one week and then falling into the abyss the next, the Nationals have been remarkably consistent.There have been only three 10-game stretches this season in which the Nationals lost more games than they won: April 19-May 1 (4-6), June 15-25 (3-7) and July 8-21 (4-6). That's it. Those don't even qualify as troublesome losing streaks.That most recent downturn ended after the first game of the July 21 doubleheader against the Braves. At that moment, the Nationals had seen their lead over Atlanta dwindle to 1 12 games. Then John Lannan was called up from Class AAA to make a spot start and pitched a gem, and ever since then the Nats are 14-4.Are there some things to be concerned about with this team? Sure. They're by no means perfect, and some questions have been raised in recent days.But there's simply too much talent on that roster to let the little hiccups cascade into major headaches.This just in: The Nationals are the best team in baseball at this moment. And there's nothing fluky about it.

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If the Nationals’ season isn’t over, it’s close

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If the Nationals’ season isn’t over, it’s close

NEW YORK -- Dealing with tomorrow has often become the only palatable way for the Nationals to forget yesterday.

They lose in eye-gouging fashion, roll in the next day to reset, and, at least in New York, find a topper. That formula has them on a train home from what could have been a series for re-emergence, but instead placed them in a worse place than they started. Washington is 19-31 following a sweep in Flushing. It would have to go 71-41 (a .634 winning percentage) to reach 90 wins. If it’s not already, the season is on the verge of being over. Manager Davey Martinez disputed that idea.

“I mean we're not out of it that's for sure, I can tell you that right now," Martinez said after Thursday’s 6-4 loss. “Like I said, everyday we're close, we compete, we're in every game. Now we just got to finish games.”

A slog-filled drive from midtown to Queens delivered the tired team back to its baseball quarters Thursday morning. Sean Doolittle changed then pulled his red hood up, sitting at his locker 10 hours after he stated he was “disgusted” with himself for Wednesday’s crash. Such a devastating night has been common for the 2019 Nationals. It was not for Doolittle. He hit a batter for the first time since May 29, 2018. He allowed four earned runs in an outing for the fifth time in 348 career appearances (1.4 percent of the time he pitches). In keeping with the season, the worst-possible outcome arrived at the worst-possible time, then another terrible one followed.

Martinez remained upbeat, sipping a morning drink concoction common in his native Puerto Rico. He rewatched Wednesday's game -- a masochist’s errand this season -- as he regularly does, went to sleep around 2 a.m., awoke at 7, arrived at Citi Field around 9:45. The leash on his future has been shortened greatly by the four failing days in New York.

The Nationals wandered out for stretch and light throwing in front of an oddball scene. Thursday was “Weather Day” at Citi Field with the Big Apple-famous Mr. G hosting in his Mets jersey. Mr. G  -- known to his friends as Irv Gikofsy, New York City’s most popular weatherman -- kicked up a “Let’s go Mets!” chant down the third base line while the Nationals relievers ran routes and caught a foam football to get loose in the same part of the park. The recently re-emerged Mrs. Met, who popped back up in 2013 after decades of dormancy, used her giant noggin to nod along.

The game was another compilation of missed opportunities, bullpen disasters and bad luck. Washington left eight runners on base through the first six innings alone. The Mets’ path to runs was aided by slop and basics. Carlos Gomez single in the fifth. He ran to steal second, Yan Gomes’ throw went into center field, Gomez went on to third base. A sacrifice fly scored him.

J.D. Davis singled in the sixth. Todd Frazier was hit by a pitch. Stephen Strasburg’s wild pitch moved them both over. Another sacrifice fly scored one, a Wilson Ramos infield single scored the other. The Mets led, 3-1.

The Nationals didn’t score with runners on first and third and one out in the first. They did not score after Juan Soto’s leadoff triple in the second inning. They did not score after a one-out double in the third. They did not score with runners on second and third and one out in the fourth. They did not score with a runner on second and one out in the fifth. This is not hyperbole for effect. It’s facts. Sigh-worthy ones.

The only effective offseason signings are Kurt Suzuki and Patrick Corbin. The others have not just resided below expectations, they have been among the worst in the league at their position.

Gomes, acquired in a trade, leads the league in passed balls. He’s committed three errors in his 29 starts. Coming into Thursday, he had a 65 OPS-plus (100 is average).

Brian Dozier started the afternoon with a 73 OPS-plus and -0.5 WAR. Those two numbers would be worse if not for a recent uptick both in the field and plate from him.

And, the most egregious failure of the offseason has been Trevor Rosenthal’s saga. Martinez was asked directly Wednesday if Rosenthal simply has the “yips”. He said they still believe Rosenthal’s problems are mechanics, not thoughts, despite him throwing baseballs to the backstop in central Pennsylvania. The luxury-tax averse Nationals are paying him $6 million to do so.

Finally, Thursday was enough for Martinez to shed his tranquility. After Howie Kendrick was ejected in the top of the eighth, Martinez ran to home plate to start an argument of his own. He half-circled home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman, yelled, pointed and carried on in a manner that begged Dreckman to throw him out. He did. Martinez went from rankled to furious. He spiked his hat, kicked the dirt, and yelled some more. The event provided his third career ejection and looked to be among the final moves of a manager on the verge of returning to private life.

A strange thing followed: his team rallied for three runs to take a 4-3 lead. No matter. There’s no goodness Washington’s bullpen can’t undermine. Wander Suero gave up a three-run homer in the eighth to Gomez. New day, different reliever, same ear-bleeding outcome.

Which again made talking about tomorrow the only way to deal with the grotesqueness of today. Trouble is tomorrow may not matter anymore.

“Things are going to change,” Martinez said. “Things are going to change. And I know that. So we just got to keep pounding away, keep playing baseball. There's good players in that clubhouse, really good players. We'll turn things around.”

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An irate Davey Martinez ejected in 8th inning as Nats swept by Mets

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An irate Davey Martinez ejected in 8th inning as Nats swept by Mets

Perhaps Davey Martinez senses his job security is in serious jeopardy as the team continues to underperform and slip its way down the competitive NL East division. 

The second-year Nationals manager, who's gone 101-111 since accepting the job, reached a boiling point Thursday when he was ejected in the 8th for arguing a called strike three on a Howie Kendrick check swing. 

“I just didn’t think he [Kendrick] swung. And we just got into it. All I did was tell him to ask for help. That’s why the first base umpire’s there. And he didn’t like it. I did what I had to do.”

"Things are going to change. Things are going to change. And I know that. So we just got to keep pounding away, keep playing baseball. there's good players in that clubhouse, really good players. We'll turn things around," Martinez reiterated postgame, as he so often has this season. 

Martinez, typically mild-mannered in the dugout, tied Matt Williams on the all-time career ejections as a manager list with his third Thursday. 

First-year National and MLB veteran second baseman Brian Dozier stood behind his manager after the crushing loss. 

“Davey does a really, really good job of always defending his players. Whether that be on the field to an umpire, to you guys, in the media, in the clubhouse, wherever it is, he does a really good job of that.”

The Nationals' 6-4 loss to New York marked the team's fifth straight as it falls to 19-31 on the season. They return home Friday night for a four-game set at Nationals Park against the Miami Marlins. 

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