As many have touched on lately, for the first time since the franchise moved to the nation’s capital, the Washington Nationals are playing actual meaningful baseball in September.
However, it hasn’t quite gone to plan so far, as the team has an underwhelming 7-10 record this month following another series loss, this time at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Here are the main takeaways from the series against the Cards...
Martinez on the mend
Despite the poor result in this series, there are some things that end up being bigger than baseball. That has been the case with the health of Nationals manager Dave Martinez.
During Sunday's series finale with the Atlanta Braves, Martinez departed halfway through the contest after not feeling well and was taken to hospital shortly after the game.
“He wasn’t feeling good,” stand-in manager Chip Hale told reporters afterward. “So just for precautionary reasons they took him to the hospital just to see what’s going on, but we’re expecting everything will be good.”
Thankfully, it looks like nothing serious was found and like Martinez should be back with the team relatively soon, potentially in Miami ahead of the weekend series down south.
“When he visited the hospital he had a little procedure,” GM Mike Rizzo said ahead of the Cardinals series, there was a “... minor procedure done to him yesterday, it was called a cardiac catheterization. Went through that this morning very well.
“I spoke to him just a couple hours ago and he was upbeat and felt fine...and he’ll be back with the team when he feels up to it.”
You can never be too careful when it comes to heart-related health issues, so it’s good news that things were only precautionary for Martinez. Hopefully, we’ll see him back in the dugout soon and back on his feet for the huge run-in.
Yan the man
Though things have generally been a struggle for Yan Gomes in his new surroundings most of this year, the Brazilian has stepped up at the plate big time recently.
As Kurt Suzuki continues to recover from elbow inflammation, it’s been up to Gomes to carry the load behind the dish. Starting every game in the series St. Louis, including a day game after a night game, Gomes went 6-for-10 with a pair of doubles.
“Yan Gomes has done a great job of playing every day,” Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday. “His bat’s heating up a little bit, and this is a guy who played in the All-Star Game last year, so we’re confident and happy when he’s catching.”
It’s funny how baseball works sometimes, as Gomes is flourishing when he’s being asked to do more than he has for the team all season. Since August 18th, the backstop is slashing a solid .308/.366/.585 with four home runs and 12 RBI toward the bottom of the lineup.
While his defense was more-or-less as advertised so far this season, his bat has taken a while to catch up to the All-Star level he was at last year. If he continues to hit this way, when Suzuki returns, the backstop tandem could become a huge strength in October.
Injuries still at large
As mentioned, the opportunity for Gomes is coming at the expensive of Kurt Suzuki because of his elbow injury, but the catcher isn’t the only one on the team still ailing.
As well as Suzuki, the Nationals are still without Matt Adams, Joe Ross, and Roenis Elías right now. None of those players have a clear timeline for their recovery as yet, limiting the team in certain areas.
Obviously, Suzuki’s bat in the lineup is a big miss. While Gomes is hot, Suzuki has come up with huge clutch hits for this team and may well end up being the starter behind the plate in a potential wild card game despite his defensive deficiencies.
Meanwhile, the presence of Adams on the bench has also been missed. With Asdrúbal Cabrera seemingly taking the starting second base job and running with it, there are no power threats from the left-side off the bench.
And finally, with Elías, it means the Nats are down to just one lefty in the bullpen in Sean Doolittle. Though Elías’s platoon splits this season show that lefties are hitting him much better than righties, over his career, the splits have been neutral, leaving them down a left-handed weapon in the bullpen that is still struggling to get left-handers out.
None of the injuries are thought to be major, as all are expected to be back before the playoffs, should the Nats make it. However, it is concerning that players who are expected to be a big part of the team have injuries that are lingering. Something to monitor.
Limping to the finish line
It wasn’t all that long ago that the Nationals looked like a near-lock to host the NL Wild Card Game. On September 1st, they were 4.5 clear of the Chicago Cubs in the second wild card and 7.5 games clear of the Milwaukee Brewers following the games on Sunday.
However, following the series loss to the Cardinals, the Nationals sit just a game and a half above both the Cubs and Brewers with a week and a half left in the regular season.
It’s been rough for the Nats lately, wrapping up four-straight series against first-place teams, the Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, and Minnesota Twins, going 6-8 over the course of those two weeks.
“I think it’s important for us to stick together,” Stephen Strasburg told reporters before Tuesday’s game. “There’s going to be highs and lows over the course of the season and we’ve got to do our best to flush this one, and come out ready to play tomorrow.”
Next for the Nationals is a three-game series with the Miami Marlins, who they are 13-3 against this year. Then they welcome the Philadelphia Phillies to town for five games in four days, a team they hold a 9-5 record against in 2019.
That schedule reflects in the still-favorable postseason odd, as the Nats have a 92.7% chance of qualifying for the postseason according to Baseball-Reference, a 93.6% chance according to FanGraphs, and 92% chance according to FiveThirtyEight.
If the Nats can win, say, six of eight against those two teams, then that would get them to 89 wins and more than likely secure a wild card spot at the very least. But now, it’s time for them to step up and capitalize on what are by far the most important games of the season.
Next up: The Nationals now head into a big three-game set with the Miami Marlins as they need to assert themselves against a weaker opponent. Aníbal Sánchez, Stephen Strasburg, and Austin Voth are set to go for the Nats this weekend.