Monday night’s loss to the St. Louis Cardinals was Washington’s third straight overall, and sixth in the last ten, and it left them 8.0 games out of first in the NL East with 42 games to play in 2018.
It left the Nationals 60-60 on the season, and in spite how things stand, (12-12 thus far in the so-called second-half, fighting to remain relevant in the division they’ve won in four of the last six seasons), Davey Martinez said he remained hopeful that the team could still make a run.
“We’ve got to keep fighting,” Martinez said. “We’re playing for something. They know that, and they’re not going to quit.”
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo was a little more blunt/realistic about the Nats’ chances when he spoke to 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday morning, and was asked to consider how he’d look back on and sum up this season if things don’t turn around before it’s all over.
“If that’s the case, the numbers are the numbers,” Rizzo said. “Like we say the ‘back of your baseball card says everything.’ As far as the team goes, you are what your record is, and if it goes to plan as it is right now, we’re hovering around that .500 mark and that type of thing, you really can’t put one type of description on it. You know, this thing takes a village.
“To play really, really good like we have in the past winning 97-98 games or to win 83-85 games, it takes a village and there’s a multitude of reasons of why things went the way they went and we’ll do our evaluations at the end there and figure out what we did right, what we did wrong, and fix the wrong ones and kind of strengthen the good things we’ve done.”
“I really like the way we’re playing baseball, too,” Rizzo said at another point. “That’s the ironic part of it.”
Wednesday night in Busch Stadium, the defending, back-to-back NL East champs lost their fourth straight and seventh in the last ten, fell a game below .500 (60-61) and ended up 9.0 games out in the NL East.
So, Martinez was asked after the 4-2 loss to the Cardinals, how does he get his squad to continue to buy into the argument that they still have a chance to make the postseason?
“I don’t think you have to ‘get them’,” Martinez said. “I think they know. They still feel that way. There’s no ‘getting’. We’ve got a lot of games left.
“I’ve been on the other side where we were 9.0 games up and the Braves ended up catching us. It’s possible. And they know that, they understand that, they’re not going to give up. We’ll come back tomorrow, Tanner [Roark] is pitching, and he’s been pitching well, and hopefully we can come back and score first and score often, and win tomorrow.”
With time running out, however, and the losses piling up, is there a point at which you start to shake things up and try something drastic to light a spark?
“You think about it, but the guys are actually playing well, they are,” Martinez said, after the Nationals were held off the board though eight on Wednesday night, before Daniel Murphy homered and Matt Wieters drove in a run with a sac fly in the ninth to make it a two-run loss.
“They’re swinging the bats. I mean we hit some balls hard today too. You look at [Daniel] Murphy’s last at bat, crushed that ball. [Bryce] Harper is swinging the bat really well. [Juan] Soto lines out. So they’re playing good, and we get to the ninth inning and here they go, score a couple more runs, but we’ve got to start doing that the whole game, from the first inning on, and tack on runs, those are the things. Just don’t get the lead early, we’ve got to keep going and play the whole nine innings.”
They also need to get good pitching. Jeremy Hellickson gave up three runs 4 2⁄3 innings in St. Louis, but ended up hurting his wrist and leaving the game at that point. Gio Gonzalez surrendered five runs on five hits in four innings in Tuesday’s game, a 6-4 loss, and Tommy Milone went 4 1⁄3 in the series opener on Monday, giving up 10 hits and two earned runs before the Cards scored five runs on the bullpen and walked off on the Nats, a night after the Chicago Cubs broke the Nationals’ hearts with a walk-off win (on a ninth-inning grand slam) in the series finale in Wrigley Field.
“For me it starts with the starting pitching,” Martinez explained.
“And then we had opportunities to score runs early in the game,” he added, “and we just couldn’t capitalize. I know that’s baseball, but when you’re in a playoff race we’ve got to score first, we’ve got to score early, you know.
“We talk about that every day about scoring first, and for our pitchers to keep us in the game.
“We were in the game until Helly got hurt, but we can’t squander the opportunities that we get, we’ve got to make those opportunities count.”