As they headed out of Kaufman Stadium on Sunday, the Nationals chose an optimistic reading of their situation. They overlooked the sloppy-beyond-description eighth inning that led a 6-4 loss. They had at least clawed back from an instantaneous, four run deficit to tie it in the seventh. More broadly, they had finished a three-city road swing at 6-4, a trip that revived their hope they may still make one more run.
“We got a lot of fight left in us,” starter Dan Haren said. “It hurts, but we’re not going to win the rest of our games. I don’t know how many games we have left. If it’s 30 or so, we’re not going to win them all. We’re going to lose a few. There can only be a few little bumps in the road. We finally got back to .500. Now we just got to see how many games over .500 we can finish.”
The Nationals’ loss Sunday certainly hurt. They’ve put themselves in a position where every mistake could be a moment they look back on with regret. They face long odds to even reach that point, but for the games to matter in September, they must operate with a small margin for error.
“The further along you go, you get in must-win situations,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “It’s not fun to be in those. We’re not even in the last month of the season. We were in a bad spot to begin with. But, we keep doing what we were doing on the back end of this road trip and see how the chips fall.”
After going 5-1 over their last six games, the Nationals face a stretch that could at least allow them to make things interesting. They’re 8 ½ games behind the Reds with 32 games left, which makes their chances at contention dire at best. But if any schedule sets up for a miracle, it’s the Nationals’.
Starting Tuesday, the Nationals will play 19 straight games against the Phillies, Marlins and Mets. Their situation requires an improbable run, something like winning 15 out of those 19, to redeem months of mediocrity. It’s an extreme longshot, but the Nationals couldn’t ask for better opportunity.
“I ain’t going to disrespect any teams,” center field Denard Span said. “We’re playing some teams that, we should beat them. But sometimes, those are the toughest games. It’s getting towards the end of the year. They’ve got a lot of young guys that are probably up, some guys that we haven’t faced. We just got to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re playing good baseball right now.”
The Nationals actually played horrible baseball at the worst time Sunday, mangling two defensive plays. It was extreme, but also indicative of their season-long defensive deficiencies. Their ability to close games also came into question with continued rocky outings by closer Rafael Soriano. But the Nationals’ lineup hit better than it has all season on the road. They averaged 5.4 runs and 11.2 hits during the trip.
At the end, they chose to focus on that rather than what had gone so wrong.
“We’ve been playing such good baseball, it’s tough to let that kind of game, when so many good things happened in that game, to let that last inning kind of ruin the rest of the trip,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “Because we have been playing better. We’re showing signs.”
Those signs may have come too late. But the Nationals at least have a schedule conducive to holding on to hope.
FROM THE POST
Mike Wise found support for Randy Knorr and Trent Jewett in the Nationals’ clubhouse.
Jim Riggleman still has no regrets, James Wagner writes.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Charlotte 3, Syracuse 1: Danny Espinosa went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts. Eury Perez went 1 for 4 with a double. Cole Kimball allowed no runs in two relief innings on no hits and a walk, striking out three.
Harrisburg 5, Erie 4: Steve Souza went 2 for 4 with a double. Just Bloxom went 2 for 3 with a walk. Brian Goodwin went 0 for 3 with a walk. Robbie Ray allowed two earned runs in four innings on five hits and three walks, striking out six. Aaron Barrett pitched a scoreless ninth for his 26th save.
Potomac 6, Wilmington 2: Matt Purke allowed two runs in five innings on three hits and five walks, striking out one. Cutter Dykstra went 3 for 4 with a double, a homer and a walk. Michael Taylor went 1 for 2 with two walks.
Greensboro 3, Hagerstown 2: Tony Renda went 2 for 4 with a double and a home run. Renda, a second round pick in 2012, has 41 doubles this year. Kylin Turnbull allowed two runs over six innings on four hits and two walks, striking out three.
State College 10, Auburn 5: Jimmy Yezzo went 3 for 4. Matt Reistetter went 3 for 4 with a triple and a walk.