It might be convenient to bail on the Washington Nationals about right now. And while they did let down many of the 42,064 paid Nationals Park attendees twice last night, it’s still too early to tell if this team will fizzle or sizzle in the summer heat.
The boos that rang out when the team announced, after a 1 hour 44 minute rain delay, that post-game fireworks would be cancelled might have been louder than the collective groan emitted after the final out of Saturday night’s 5-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
And even though their performance thus far against the Dodgers might make some fans think of sleeping in rather than taking in the 11:05 a.m. 4th of July game, the Nats will likely make it worthwhile to watch the game and the rest of the season.
“If we weren’t leaving town tomorrow, I’d definitely sleep here, that’s for sure. It’s a quick turnaround, “ manager Davey Martinez quipped in his post-game Zoom call. “We’ve just got to be ready to play tomorrow.”
The loss came after the latest bad injury news, that Kyle Schwarber, June’s National League Player of the Month, would miss significant time with a hamstring injury, and the Nats had acquired veteran Alcides Escobar from Kansas City for fill in the thin infield.
The apparent bleakness of the situation came though with two out in the bottom of the ninth Saturday night, as Josh Bell was falling behind Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen and eventually lining out to end the game.
In the on-deck circle was Trea Turner — who hasn’t played since jamming the middle finger on his left hand June 30. Martinez was so short on healthy players he was pressing Turner into service, hours after telling reporters his shortstop could still not grip the bat.
“We were going to pinch hit him,” Martinez said. “I don’t know about playing the field. I talked to him and if we had a chance to win the game he would hit, and we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”
Even before that, in the fifth inning, tied at 3-3 following the rain delay, Jon Lester pinch hit for another pitcher — and struck out — for the second straight game.
Martinez acknowledged he was holding back for the later innings.
“The issue is we have to pinch hit in the 4th or 5th inning, early in the game, so you don’t want to blow your pinch hitter, especially when there’s two outs,” the manager explained.
“If our starters are good, and like I said, if we score first and take the lead, we don’t have to use these pinch hitters so early. Right now it’s just biting us, but previously we were doing okay with it.”
That’s how short Martinez’s bench was on Saturday. But even with three straight losses, a difficult schedule ahead and seemingly mounting injuries, the Nationals still have as good a chance to make the postseason as anyone in the National League East.
The same “injury rat” that Max Scherzer identified in the Nats’ clubhouse is either finding its way into other big league digs or has a few hungry relatives there.
The New York Mets, Atlanta, and Philadelphia are all in similar situations, within four games of the lead, and none has separated from the pack. It will be surprising if any of them does before the All-Star break.
It's probably good thing that none of the Nats is appreciated enough to be voted into the All-Star Game because this year, more than any, the players need the break.
The Nationals were badly outmanned against a team that already streaked into the series. Yet they continued to battle, even to the point of sending an injured Turner to the plate, hoping for a figurative lightning strike.
Whatever players Martinez and the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts send out early on July 4, the Nats will battle just as fiercely as if they’d won the past three games.
While the injuries won’t all go away soon, none so far is season threatening, and Martinez did not deviate from his trademark optimism, even after sharing the bad news about Schwarber before the game.
“We’ve got to focus on the here and now and stay positive, and I believe in all those guys in the clubhouse, and I say it all the time. It takes 26 guys to collaborate to play together to win ballgames, and we have those guys still,” he said.
“Obviously we are missing some big pieces, but we can compete,” he continued. “I feel like our pitching can keep us in the game, we just got to score some runs, and try to win some of these games.”