There are long odds for the Washington Nationals who are only still barely breathing in the NL East race and 7.0 games behind because the Phillies and Braves have not been able to win lately and send the knock-out punch to the reigning NL East champs. While the Nationals have an identity crisis from game-to-game, they do seem to morph into whatever their day’s starting pitching is in that particular game.
Yesterday, the way Gio Gonzalez pitched was an embarrassment and eventually the rest of the team followed suit. Contrast that with Friday night behind Max Scherzer and the night before that with Tanner Roark and immediately they looked like a playoff team and their superstar was talking that way.
“It’s just fun to come here to play ballgames and enjoy it with everybody,” Bryce Harper said after the Friday night win. “It’s a great clubhouse in there — a great team… We have one of the best fanbases in baseball. I’m excited to be where we’re at right now…Be hot going into the playoffs. Let’s do it!”
The difference a day makes as they say. With the Nationals starting pitchers, they are setting the tone with almost an 80% certainty to the outcome. The Nationals manager must control games like they mean something. The first 5-innings usually foreshadow the outcome for this Nationals team, and when the Nats are ahead at that point, their record in those games are 46-12 which is a .793 winning percentage. When they are behind in the 5th, they are 8-36 for a .182 winning percentage. Too often, manager Dave Martinez has missed out on this point while his team has defined itself as winning almost 4 out of every 5 games if they have a lead in the 5th inning compared to losing almost 4 out of every 5 games when they are losing at that point.
On Saturday night, Martinez seemed to want to squeeze that juice a little bit more out of starter Jefry Rodriquez. A tie game turned into a 2-run deficit in the blink of an eye. Yesterday with Gio pitching, you could tell by the 3rd inning at a 3-0 deficit which Gio was on the mound. If that was really a must-win game then you play it like it is and pull your pitcher at that point just to give your team a chance. By leaving Gio in there, it was like waving the white flag that you surrendered. Once Gio walked those two batters in the 3rd inning, his centerfielder just seemed to check himself out of that hotel. He misread two balls that led to that to those 3-runs and with two outs, and on the first flyball Harper could have kept running and dove for the ball — but he did not. Why he did not only he knows. The 0-0 game turned to 1-0. The next batter hit a lazy liner and Harper took the wrong angle as the ball went over his head and rolled to the wall for a 3-0 deficit.
That should not have been —ballgame— just 3-runs behind. The Nationals then cut the deficit in the bottom of the inning to 2-runs at a score of 3-1, but once Gio Gonzalez took the mound for that 4th inning — you just knew that Gio was a ticking time bomb. Sure, he threw a scoreless 4th inning after he loaded the bases and threw a meatball to rookie Brian Anderson who put his best HR Derby swing on the ball and luck broke the way of the Nationals and the ball found Juan Soto in leftfield.
After that 4th inning, you think there is no way Martinez will send out Gio for the 5th inning, right? Of course he did, and this time the Marlins did not miss on the meatballs. It looked like BP out there. Gio gave up 3 doubles and a single plus a walk and if it was not for striking out the opposing pitcher (again) it would have been worse as 5 more runs scored and that 3-1 deficit went to 8-1. Martinez had to go to his bullpen anyway in the 5th inning. Why does this manager constantly push to get one more inning? At a 3-1 deficit there is still a glimmer of hope. At 8-1, that hope turns to salvage mode the way Gio set his team up.
So that really wasn’t a “must win” game because if it was, Davey has a funny way of showing that he cares. This team has had 30 comeback wins. They could comeback against the last place Marlins. They did it before with a larger deficit, but expecting lightning to strike twice with a deficit that large was just asking for too much. At a 2-run deficit — sure. You could tell from Bryce Harper in that 3rd inning that he had seen enough. The “Gio Show” is as predictable as we have seen in his 7-year tenure with these Nationals. His body language and facial contortions tell you all you need to know. You could look at the players behind Gio. He lulled them all to sleep. Anthony Rendon was yawning so much you knew he had enough. The Nationals did not record a hit after that 3rd inning yesterday. Where’s the “mercy rule” when you need it.
I'm not sure if that's something up with Rendon, but if there's not, I find this surprising. https://t.co/o43dwagWOW
— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) August 19, 2018
What is surprising Chelsea? Rendon was subbed out of a blow-out game to get him off his feet unless there is some conspiracy theory here. Tony looked like he fell asleep at the hands of the anesthesiologist. Gio has a way of doing that to his teammates and certainly the crowd in attendance who turned so quiet you could hear those same five entitled guys booing in the late innings. Harper would be replaced shortly afterwards after an 0-fer at the plate, one officially scored error in the field, and 3 outfield gaffes that were not ruled errors.
The players who remained in that game deserved hazardous duty pay, and the fans in attendance deserved a refund equivalent to the ticket price of a Hagerstown Suns game because let’s get real here — that was the quality of play on the field — no offense to the Suns. I think Nick Raquet could have pitched with more heart than Gio yesterday. Remove J.T. Realmuto, Brian Anderson and Starlin Castro from that line-up yesterday and they looked like a Triple-A group. Sure, J.T. Riddle got hot and that happens, but who is Ortega, Dean, Galloway, and Holaday? That group accumulated 17-hits and 4-walks yesterday. Riddle entered the series batting .211 and left D.C. batting .231. Galloway entered at .250 and he left D.C. looking like a batting champion at .333.
“We’re going to need [Gio] down the stretch — we are,” Martinez said after the game. “We’re going to stay positive with him.”
Gio Gonzalez was not DFA’d after the game. He deserved to be or at the very least demoted. Earlier this month, the Mariners took their former Cy Young, Felix Hernandez, and demoted him to the bullpen. Hernandez had lost his previous 5 starts — Mariners’ GM Jerry DiPoto was not going to allow it to go for 6 in a row. Gio has been on a win one – lose four pattern since early June. If that pattern holds he will lose two more before his next win. Can the Nats afford that pattern to continue? The issue is who would replace Gio. Let’s just say this, Tommy Milone is 2-2 in his starts for the Nationals this season. The Nationals have now lost 10 of Gio’s last 12 starts. It’s almost the definition of insanity — you know, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Doing nothing is just living in denial, and kudos to Jerry Dipoto for making an unpopular decision on King Felix.
Good pitching defines you — bad pitching will put you to sleep.
The Next 3-Days
The Nationals announced that they will recall Stephen Strasburg from the DL on Wednesday. They will give Max Scherzer the start on Thursday and Tanner Roark will start on Tuesday.
Here’s the match-ups:
Vince Velasquez vs. Tanner Roark on Tuesday
Zach Eflin vs. Stephen Strasburg on Wednesday
Aaron Nola vs. Max Scherzer on Thursday
That looks like a playoff rotation from bottom to top: Scherzer to Strasburg to Roark
“Tuesday we got a big game,” Martinez said. “We gotta get going.”
That’s an understatement from Davey Martinez. Yes, Tuesday is a big game as are Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and the following Tuesday and Wednesday and so on. The Nationals longest winning streak of 2018 is six games. If the Nationals really want to get back into the NL East race, they need to go on one of those patented Matt Williams‘ 10-game winning streaks which has to include a Ruthian faux home run trot like Davey Martinez’s players practiced in Spring Training.
“In this game — anything is possible,” Matt Williams said after his team’s 10-game winning streak.
Yes, yes it is.