Scoreboard watching has begun as Nats cling to top Wild Card spot

Chris Lingebach
September 10, 2019 - 5:12 pm

The Washington Nationals can pretty much kiss the division goodbye after dropping three-of-four to the Atlanta Braves over the weekend.

Which leaves the NL Wild Card race, where the Nats still hold a 2.5-game edge over the Cubs for the top spot. Behind Chicago, Milwaukee and Arizona have been surging, each winning 7 of their past 10 games, leaving the Brewers and D-Backs 4.5 and five games back of the Nats, respectively.

Washington's postseason hope hinges on not losing games in large swaths to maintain their position atop the Wild Card standings. A dastardly series against the Phillies, for instance, could upend the Nats' entire season. Washington plays Philadelphia four times in fives days – all at Nationals Park – in the final week of the regular season. From there, their entire season will come down to a one-game, single elimination playoff game.

Nats reliever Sean Doolittle – in his weekly 106.7 The Fan appearance with Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier, presented by Lindsay Volvo Cars of Alexandria – was asked Tuesday if his club has entered scoreboard-watching mode by this point in the season, with 20 regular season games to go.

"I think that's where we're at, where we're checking kind of like after our game," said Doolittle. "So in a lot of these stadiums, you can see the out-of-town scoreboard during the game. I don't really think guys are peeking at that during the game. I don't think that is coming into play just yet. We're well aware of what some of these other teams are doing, what the Diamondbacks have been doing, especially."

"We knew it was going to be a crazy September," he said. "We knew there was going to be a lot going on down the stretch, so it's definitely no surprise."

Doolittle has been working his way back into top form, and toward reclaiming his closer role, since rejoining the club from the Injured List at the start of September. He's finished three games in three outings in that time, but has only appeared in games the Nats are either losing, or ahead by six runs, but never in a save situation.

That's not to say he hasn't pitched in high-leverage situations yet. Doolittle took the mound in the bottom of the eighth Saturday, with the Nats trailing the Braves 5-4. He held the line, not allowing a single run, to provide his club an opportunity to even the game in the top of the ninth, which they failed to do.

Doolittle has looked more himself lately, giving up just one hit with one walk and two strikeouts, while not allowing any runs, in his past three outings (three innings pitched).

"I've been feeling better every time out," Doolittle said. "I feel like I'm gaining confidence. I feel like, mechanically, I'm really starting to sync up. I think each outing has been better from an execution standpoint than the previous one. I've been really happy with the progress that I've made and I'm hoping that down the stretch I can start to work my way into some important spots, no matter how we decide to slice it up."

"I know at the moment I'm the only lefty down there," he said, "so however we have to slice it up. If we have to get creative, I just want to be in the mix."

As for a potential play-in game, Doolittle is fine pitching whenever the Nats need him.

"I don't think in that game you can... I don't think you can leave anything to chance," he said. "I think you have to throw pretty much every formula that you know or have counted on out the window, and you just have to figure out how to get 27 outs. So if there's a big spot in, shoot, even before the seventh or eighth. We've seen teams go to their bullpens really early and then try to hand it off to a starter after that, as almost like a long man."

"And so I think when you look at our staff as a whole, and you think that we pretty much have four No. 1 starters, almost, the way that these guys have thrown all year, there's a number of ways that we could slice that up that I think we'd all feel really, really good about," he said. "Whatever we come up with, I'll be ready. I know the guys in the bullpen down there will be ready. As a team, we'll find a way to get it done."

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