Nationals

Quick Links

Nats 2nd half storylines: The pennant race

815722.png

Nats 2nd half storylines: The pennant race

The Nationals open tomorrow what promises to be the most compelling second half to a season since the franchise arrived in town in 2005, owners of the NL's best record but saddled with several major questions that need to be answered.

Today we're counting down the five most significant storylines to the remainder of the Nationals' season. Last up is storyline No. 1: The race to reach the postseason for the first time since the franchise arrived in town...

At what point does a pennant race truly begin? When is it OK to start watching the out-of-town scoreboard? To start calculating magic numbers?

This is uncharted territory for the Nationals, who haven't found themselves even on the fringes of contention since their inaugural 2005 season. And it's completely uncharted territory for just about any fan of Washington baseball, unless there's anyone still around who remembers the 1945 Senators, the last D.C.-based club to miss the postseason by fewer than eight games.

Members of the 2012 Nationals insisted throughout the last three months they were not thinking that far ahead, they remained focused on that day's game or that week's series. It was too early to look at the standings or discuss a pennant race.

Well, it's not early anymore. When the Nats take the field Friday night in Miami for the season's second-half opener, they'll have fewer games remaining on their schedule than they've already played. Memorial Day, Father's Day and Independence Day have all passed. The July 31 trade deadline will be only 18 days away.

And should they take a glance at the standings, the Nationals will find themselves four games up in the NL East, 4 12 games up in the NL wild-card race and two games ahead of anyone else in the National League.

Start paying attention to those numbers, because they're going to become more and more important with each passing day.

This isn't the 2005 club that turned a 50-31 first half into a 31-50 second half. This team is built to keep winning through the remainder of the season. It's got the deepest pitching staff in baseball, deep enough even to survive the September shutdown of Stephen Strasburg. It's got an improving lineup that will be further bolstered by Jayson Werth's pending return. And it's got a seasoned manager in Davey Johnson who has guided five of his last seven big-league clubs to the postseason.

None of that, of course, guarantees anything. But there are far more reasons to believe these Nationals can stay in the race through the finish line than reasons to believe they cannot.

And that race begins in earnest on Friday.

Quick Links

With 'Baby Shark' as his new walk-up song, Gerardo Parra broke out of his slump for the Nats

gerardo_parra_usat.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Images

With 'Baby Shark' as his new walk-up song, Gerardo Parra broke out of his slump for the Nats

WASHINGTON - When Gerardo Parra stepped into the batter’s box for the first time on Wednesday afternoon, everyone in the ballpark knew something was different with the 32-year-old outfielder.

His walk-up song, “Baby Shark”, drew the immediate attention of everyone in attendance. And it would not be the last thing that Washington Nationals fans remembered from Parra on the day.

“I wanted to put on something different,” Parra said postgame. “My [two-year-old daughter Aaliyah Victoria] loves that song. Before the game, I tried merengue, reggaeton, hip-hop, then I said, ‘You know what, I want to put in Baby Shark.’ I'm happy for that.”

After his performance against the Phillies in a 6-2 victory, “Baby Shark” should probably stick around as his walk-up song.

Parra was 0-for-23 when he came to the plate in the fourth inning. Before then his last hit came on June 1 against Cincinnati. Quickly Parra broke that hitless streak and doubled to plate the go-ahead run for the Nationals. He took a first-pitch slider from Zach Eflin and drove home Matt Adams, giving the Nats a 2-1 advantage.

Later in the game, he followed that up with a home run in the eighth inning as the Nats hit back-to-back jacks. It gave Parra, who started in the outfield for Victor Robles, his first multi-hit game since his June 1 appearance and his fourth such game on the Nationals roster.

But paired with his walk-up song, Parra’s sixth-inning assist to get out Bryce Harper is going to make him a fan favorite.  As Harper tried to go from first-to-third on a Scott Kingery single to shallow center, Parra scooped up the ball bare-handed to throw Harper out at third base. Without it there would have been no outs with runners on the corners and Patrick Corbin nearing the end of his start. Instead, the Nats cruised through the rest of the inning to preserve the lead. The Phillies appealed the play but to no avail.

“That's the only chance I had to get Harper,” Parra said. “I know he's an aggressive player and I tried to get everything perfect. Bare-handed, throw the ball as fast as I can. I think that changed the game.”

“It’s 'Mini-me,'” manager Davey Martinez, who played 16 years in the major leagues primarily as an outfielder, said about Parra after the game. “That’s what I tell him too. He came down [to the dugout after the play] and said, ‘You didn’t do that, you never did that.’ I go, ‘Too bad I ain’t got video of it…’ It was a tough play, barehanded, coming up firing. He’s really good, he’s a good outfielder.”  

With “Baby Shark” as his walk-up song Parra went 2-for-4 with a home run and a game-changing assist in a one-run ballgame. It looks like Parra has found his new walk-up song.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: 

Quick Links

Max Scherzer was adamant Tuesday he would pitch for the Nats Wednesday night

scherzer_head_usat.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Max Scherzer was adamant Tuesday he would pitch for the Nats Wednesday night

WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer now owns blue, brown and black eyes.

Scherzer -- who has heterochromia, resulting in one blue and one brown eye -- also now has bruising under his right eye after fouling a practice bunt attempt into his face Tuesday. He left Nationals Park on Tuesday with a splint across his broken nose, a clean CT scan and adamant he would be pitching later Wednesday.

Whether Scherzer pitches the second game of a split day-night doubleheader Wednesday is to be determined. He was still asleep, which is normal for his game-day routine, when manager Davey Martinez spoke to reporters Wednesday morning at 11. So, the last the Nationals knew, the expectation was for Scherzer to be ready for Wednesday night.

“I am convinced right now Scherzer is going to pitch the second game, and we’ll go from there,” Martinez said.

The Nationals have not played baseball since Sunday. Patrick Corbin was supposed to start Monday and Tuesday before those games were snuffed out by rain following lengthy delays. Corbin started the first game on Wednesday.

If Scherzer cannot pitch the second, Erick Fedde or Austin Voth will. Voth was brought in from Triple-A Fresno on Tuesday to be the 26th man on the roster for the doubleheader. He had a laborious trip to get to the District: Voth left Fresno on a 6 a.m. flight with a connection in Salt Lake City. He missed it because his first flight was delayed by weather and mechanical problems. He was rerouted to Detroit -- which took him out of first class and put him into a middle seat in coach -- then eventually landed in Washington. His baseball bag made the whole journey. His personal bag did not.

The Nationals hope they don’t have to use Voth as a starter. He could fill three roles: relief in the first game, starter in the second or relief in the second. He is likely to pitch somehow Wednesday in order to protect the other bullpen members during a stretch of six games in five days (should Mother Nature finally relent).

So, the Nationals are waiting on a call from Scherzer to map everything out. He’s expected to ring the team’s head trainer, Paul Lessard when he arises. The team is concerned about possible breathing complications for Scherzer both prior to and while pitching after Scherzer left the stadium with a splint across his damaged nose on Wednesday. Martinez was not sure if his $210 million right-hander would wear the splint if he pitches in a game.

What the Nationals do know is they have run into another odd situation during a strange year. A bad start, a manager on the hot seat, a recent rally toward relevancy, then back-to-back rainouts against a key opponent with an ace’s broken nose mixed in. Several players wore black “Stay in the fight” T-shirts which were draped across their clubhouse chairs when they walked in Wednesday morning. That slogan applied to Scherzer’s mentality on Tuesday night.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: