Well, after six long months, the 2019 regular season is now over. Even though it looked almost impossible at one point, the Washington Nationals will be playing in October.
They couldn’t be going into the postseason in much better form. Playing two teams fighting for their playoff lives, the Nats swept both series, first off against the Philadelphia Phillies, followed by a three-game sweep of the Cleveland Indians.
Here are the main takeaways from the team’s last series of the regular season...
No place like home-field
Earlier on in September, it just looked like a matter of when, not if, the Nationals would secure home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game. Despite the rampant efforts of the Milwaukee Brewers to make it close at the end, the Nats secured it with a game to spare.
After the Nats’ win and Brewers’ loss on Friday, all they needed to do was beat the Indians on Saturday. After charging out to a 9-0 lead, Patrick Corbin coughed up six runs to make it close until the bullpen locked down a 10-7 win it.
“It’s awesome,” manager Dave Martinez said of securing home-field for the Wild Card Game. “I don’t have to go home and pack. Nice to stay at home. The boys wanted to stay at home, so they played — just came out and swung the bats and... here we go Tuesday.”
Sure, the Nationals haven’t exactly had much luck in winner-take-all games despite the home-advantage they’ve had in them. Fans don’t need reminding of these, but the bad fortune has to end at some point and Tuesday offers the perfect chance.
It’s going to be a wild ride on Tuesday in the Wild Card Game when the Milwaukee Brewers come to town. The Nats haven’t had much success in winner-takes-all games, well, ever. Fans will be hoping that it all changes tomorrow and sparks a deep October run.
Baby Shark breaks loose
One of the main stories to watch this series was whether Gerardo Parra could bust out of his recent slump in order to claim a spot on the team’s postseason roster. Boy, did he.
Starting the first game of the series, Parra went 3-for-3 with a home run and 4 RBIs. Then, filling in for the sick Victor Robles on Saturday the Venezuelan launched a grand slam as part of a 2-for-4 effort. Oh, and he put the cherry on top with a pair of RBI hits on Sunday.
Coming into this series, Parra was on a 4 for 52 skid, so what changed this weekend?
“He stayed in the strike zone a lot longer with his swing,” Martinez explained. “He created length the right way, and when he does that he puts the ball in play. You saw it tonight.”
The outfielder had looked like a lock to make the postseason roster until his September swoon. His manager was all too aware of it and keen to try and flip the script before October.
“I want to get him going because he’s going to have a big at-bat in this postseason, I know he will,” Martinez said. “We got to get all these guys going, him, Zim, Matty, all these guys need to get their at-bats here in the next three days and we’ve got to get them going.”
Even though there’s still a slight debate about whether Parra should make the roster over the likes of Andrew Stevenson or Michael A. Taylor, his experience will no doubt play and a factor and should see him not only on the roster, but pinch-hitting in key spots.
Voth makes roster bid
Though Austin Voth didn’t come into Spring Training this year with much buzz as a starting option, he solidified himself as the team’s best fifth starter this year. Now, with the regular season over, he might even sneak onto the postseason roster as a bullpen option.
In his final outing of the regular season, Voth dealt six innings of two-run ball in the series opener, allowing just two hits, no walks, and striking out five.
“That’s exactly how you want to end the season, on a good note,” the right-hander said. “I ended up six innings, only have a couple hits, just that third inning I missed my location a couple times, and kind of paid for it, but exactly how I wanted to finish the season.”
Voth has now posted a 3.30 ERA in nine big league appearances this season. Has he done enough to be on the team this October?
“As we go forward,” his manager told reporters earlier this month, “I often think about once we get there he’d be a guy that we can plop in and he can get big outs for us. He’s got good stuff, and we just got to keep him going.”
Whether Voth makes the Wild Card Game is up for debate, given how they will likely have the other members of their rotation available. However, should the Nats advance, he would be a great choice to be a swingman out of the bullpen, a scenario that now sounds likely.
Corbin can’t finish strong
With the postseason just around the corner, the Nats are not only hoping to rely on Patrick Corbin to be a key member of their playoff rotation, but also a secret weapon out of the bullpen.
That hope took a small dent after the lefty’s final outing of the season. The Indians rocked Corbin for six runs in 4.1 innings as he allowed seven hits and two walks, striking out eight.
“His tempo got really fast, got really, really quick,” Martinez explained. “Watching guys like that, when you score that many runs, you’re almost just kind of trying to get through five or six innings, because all of a sudden he started going really fast.
“When he does that he starts spiking his sliders and his fastballs get a little erratic.”
After a nine-run second inning, the Nationals were hoping to keep Corbin’s pitch count down, perhaps looking to only get him through five innings to qualify for the win. He couldn’t hit that mark as the Indians seemed to figure him out in the fourth and fifth.
Thankfully, this was the first time he had allowed more than three runs since August 4th and the first time he had failed to pitch five innings since way back on May 31st.
It’s probably safe to put this one down as just a bad day at the office for Corbin. It happens.
I tried hard to think of something “ugly” last week and scraped the barrel to find the mini-slumps of Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon. Well, they busted out of their respective funks this series and that genuinely gives me nothing to write here.
The only thing that didn’t seem to go to plan in this series was the performance of Corbin, but that was only after the team staked him to a 9-0 lead, making his performance not worthy of the ugly.
This team has won eight in a row, 10 of its last 11, and is the hottest team going into the playoffs. Who knows how October pans out but considering they were 19-31 to start the season, they couldn’t have put themselves in a much better position entering the playoffs.
It’s time to hide behind the couch and watch how this wild ride ends in October. It all begins tomorrow.
Next up: I’m sure nobody needs reminding of what lies in wait for the Nationals next. The Milwaukee Brewers make the trip to the nation’s capital for the winner-takes-all NL Wild Card Game. Max Scherzer goes for the Nats, with Brandon Woodruff starting for the Brewers.