As NL East rivals slip, Nats miss chance to gain ground

Ben Krimmel
June 23, 2019 - 10:44 pm

The Washington Nationals had a big opportunity to gain ground. The early-season struggles looked behind them and Washington was once again looking like a team poised to challenge for a division crown.

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First, they swept Bryce Harper and the Philadelphia Phillies thanks to some heroics from ace Max Scherzer, broken nose and all. Next, they completed a comeback win Friday night against the NL East-leading Braves with some shutdown bullpen work and great defense.

On Saturday morning the Nats awoke just one game under .500, the closest they had been to even since April 25.

But then the rest of the weekend happened.

Saturday night the bullpen blew an 8-4 lead in the 7th when Trevor Rosenthal and Tanner Rainey combined to allow four runs. After scratching out a run to retake the lead in the bottom half of the inning, Joe Ross and Matt Grace combined to allow five runs over the next two innings. The Nationals fell 13-9.

Sunday morning, Rosenthal was released and Ross was optioned to Triple-A Fresno. And despite a decent start from the newly promoted Austin Voth and a late rally to tie the game, the Nats' bullpen again couldn't keep their opponents off the board late in the game with Rainey allowing a two-run homer in the 10th. Final: Atlanta 4, Washington 3.

On the bright side, Washington finished 6-4 on the long homestand and earned potentially a season-turning win Wednesday thanks to Scherzer, but the slips on Saturday and Sunday are costly.

A pair of weekend wins and the Nationals would be over .500 for the first time since April 18. And more importantly just 4.5 games behind the Braves and level with the Phillies. Instead, they're 8.5 behind Atlanta and two games behind Philly in third place.

And those defeats are even harder to swallow because the two teams nearest to them in the division, the Phillies and the New York Mets, are in near free fall.

The Phillies have lost seven straight and have gone 2-11 over the last fortnight of play.

But the Nationals made-up just one game on them over the weekend.

And the Mets are nearly fighting reporters in the locker room. Seriously. Following Sunday's 5-3 defeat in Chicago, Mets' manager Mickey Callaway verbally abused a beat reporter and then pitcher Jason Vargas went after the reporter before he was restrained by teammates.

That's a whole new meaning to "Step right up and greet the Mets!"

The organization later released a statement: “The Mets sincerely regret the incident that took place with one of our beat writers following today’s game in the clubhouse. We do not condone this type of behavior from any employee. The organization has reached out and apologized to this reporter and will have further discussions internally with all involved parties.”

And for Callaway the trouble may not be over.

But, the Nationals didn't gain any separation from New York while they tussled with the Cubs.

Fortunately for the Nationals, they have another massive opportunity to pick up ground on their rivals before the All-Star break as the Nats' three opponents for their final 12 games (Marlins, Tigers and Royals) have a combined 83-144 record. That's a .366 winning percentage.

So, now is really the time.

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