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The good, the bad, and the ugly from the Nationals’ series defeat to the Braves

Despite a positive series win against the Rays, the Washington Nationals fell back to earth with a disheartening series loss to the Atlanta Braves...

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

In their third and final series against the Atlanta Braves, the Washington Nationals once again disappointed.

After blowing 5-0 leads in the first two games, the Nats did at least rally in extra innings of the second of those games for a win. Unfortunately, that’s the only win they’d record as the Braves squeaked out a win on Saturday before another comeback on Sunday.

Here are the main takeaways from the weekend series...

The Good

The boys battled

There haven’t been too many exciting wins so far this season for the Nationals, but they did at least get one on Friday with a walk-off win in the 12th inning.

In truth, this was a game they should’ve won before extra innings after racing out to a five-run lead in the third inning and leading by three runs heading into the ninth. But when everything seems to be going against you this year, you take what you can get.

“A win is a win is a win,” manager Dave Martinez said after the game. “When you battle like we did tonight it was good to come out on top. I’m proud of the boys. They didn’t quit. They kept battling. It was just one of those games. We had the lead again.

“But the boys never quit. I’m proud of them.”

The game-winning at-bat came from Michael A. Taylor who dropped an 0-2, two-out single over the infield into right field, driving in the runner placed at second base, Adam Eaton.

Despite getting into an 0-2 hole in the count, Taylor’s manager was impressed with the at-bat.

“It was a great at-bat,” Martinez explained. “He stayed inside the ball, put the ball in play.

“He didn’t try to do too much and he got the game-winning hit. It was a really good at-bat.”

This was the team’s first walk-off win of the year, however, it wasn’t the first time they’d won in extra innings at Nationals Park — that was back when the Toronto Blue Jays called D.C. home for a pair of games early in the season.

At least in this odd season, win #17 was reminiscent of last season’s magic if nothing else.

The Bad

Max had how many pitches?

Max Scherzer will be the first to admit that he hasn’t quite been the same Scherzer of old so far this season. He’s a little off from the snarling, mouth-foaming, absolute horse that he has in previous seasons.

Whatever that’s down to — perhaps some aging or this tough coronavirus-affected season — Saturday’s start was another example of why he’s not quite the same as before.

Through five innings, the right-hander had allowed two runs on five hits, walking two, and striking out 10 Braves. The problem was he was already at 104 pitches in this start.

Despite the lofty number of pitches, Martinez decided to send him out for the sixth inning.

“[Scherzer’s] pitch count was high, they fouled off a lot of balls, but the ball was coming out,” his manager said. “We were talking to him, and he said he felt really good.”

Entering the inning, the Nationals led 4-2, but the Braves battled back against a tiring Scherzer and rocked him for a pair of two-run home runs before he departed at 119 pitches.

“We get to the sixth inning, and it was all about location that inning,” Martinez explained. “He’s our ace. When you have these conversations and you’re watching him and he says he feels good, for me, who else do you want out there in that sixth inning?

“If we could have got through that inning, we felt like we could cover 7-8-9. It didn’t happen today.”

Even with Martinez’s faith in Scherzer, it was at best an eyebrow-raising decision to send him back out for the sixth, followed by a baffling choice to leave him out there after the Braves tied the game, and almost indefensible to keep him going as Atlanta took a 6-4 lead.

Without much left to play for in 2020, it might be smarter for the Nationals to rein in their ace a little bit more moving forward to preserve him and give some young bullpen arms a shot.

Taste of their own medicine

When asked what the signature trait of the 2019 World Series-winning Nationals was, one of the top answers will be their resilience and never say die attitude. Stay In The Fight, as the t-shirts said.

The tables were turned in this series though as it was the Braves who stayed in the fight, rallying late in three of the four games and refused to quit, just like last season’s Nationals.

As the Nats’ manager will testify, the Braves’ lineup is relentless from top to bottom.

“Their lineup is tough,” Martinez explained after the series. “When you got [Ozzie] Albies hitting ninth, who is an All-Star, so they’re a tough team, but I truly believe a healthy Nationals moving forward, that we can compete with them.”

Even with their division rivals thriving in 2020, the Nationals skipper doesn’t think his team is all that far behind them based on what he’s seen of the two sides so far this year.

“I honestly believe that we can play with them. We played some pretty good games with them. We beat them up a few games, they beat us up a few games.”

“I truly believe a healthy Nationals moving forward, that we can compete with them. We can compete with anybody. I said this last year: They’re division champs, but you’ve got to remember, we went to the big dance and we won, so we’re World Champs. So we’ll bang heads again come next year or who knows what can happen here moving forward, but I definitely think we can compete with them any day.”

Obviously, Martinez will back his boys, but it seemed like in this series and throughout all the contests against the Braves that there is a bit of a gap between the teams right now.

The Ugly

The end for Doo?

This strange 2020 season was always going to be a tough one, but especially early on, it wasn’t going to plan for Sean Doolittle.

The left-hander really struggled out of the gate with diminished velocity, allowing runs in four of his first five appearances before going on the Injured List with right knee fatigue.

He got back up off the mat though, returning near the end of August and looking much like the pitcher he had been prior to this season with his deception and spin rate back to his normal levels, even if his velocity was still only really sitting in the low 90s.

That promising comeback came to a screeching halt on Thursday when he exited the game with an oblique injury that forced him back to the IL and will probably end his season.

“Awful,” Martinez said of how he felt about his closer’s injury. “I talked to him last night before he left, sat up last night thinking about him for about a few hours.

“He was coming back. He was doing well. We went through a lot this year with him knowing that he wanted to help us win and he wanted to get back to his form and we felt like he was there. So, this just — this just stinks for him and for us.

“I just hope he recovers, gets better, and continues to do what he does, because he’s going to be the pitcher that he was before, I know that. He’s worked so hard to get back there.”

There’s a chance that this injury could also end his tenure with the Nationals with his contract expiring at the end of the season.

If it is the end of his time with the team, nobody can argue with how crucial he has been since arriving from the Oakland Athletics, including several key outs both at the start of 2019 and during the postseason. They wouldn’t have won the World Series without him.

Next up: The Nationals have an off-day today and return on Tuesday with another two-game series against the AL-leading Tampa Bay Rays. Aníbal Sánchez and Austin Voth are lined up to start, though with doubleheaders looming, the Nats could juggle the rotation a bit.