You find joy any way you can in September on a losing team, and that’s easier for the call-ups and rookies having too much fun to worry about the standings. Chris Marrero, for example, is actually looking forward to facing the vaunted Phillies’ rotation starting tomorrow, during four games in three days.
Marrero may be a little disappointed, then, by the way the Phillies’ rotation breaks. Among the elite Cole Hamels-Cliff Lee-Roy Halladay troika, only Lee will start this series, Tuesday night against Tom Milone. The Phillies have already clinched the National League East, and their focus is more on prepping for the playoffs than on winning the games at hand.
The Nationals are in a similar place in that their lineups and rotation are tailored for preparing for next season. There is still something at stake over the next three days in Philadelphia, even if it’s only symbolic. The Nationals are 5-2 in their last seven games against the Phillies and 6-8 overall this season. If Washington takes three out of four games, they’ll finish the year even against the big, bad Phillies, the team that over the past few years have tormented them more than any other. (The Marlins are vying for that title, too.)
“Certain teams just give other teams trouble,” second baseman Danny Espinosa said. “I think some guys want to step their play up. I don’t know. But for some reason, we do get to them. The Phillies have given us credit when we’ve beaten them. They’ve said we’ve played them well. It’s nice to have a good team give you credit when it’s due instead of saying, ‘We’re messing up. We’re losing games.’ But it’s just certain teams have problems with other teams.”
Some Nationals were asked over the weekend about that oh-so-familiar September narrative of “playing spoiler,” which seems odd given the Phillies’ clinched playoff spot. Short of setting fire to Citizens Bank Park between games of the doubleheader Tuesday, there is not much the Nationals could do to spoil things for these Phillies. Even if the Phillies were in the race, would it really matter?
“That doesn’t make any sense, because we play those guys all year,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “We play them in spring training. We play them in the regular season. It’s not like we don’t play hard in April. We played them just as hard all year long. Fortunately for them, they are in the race and we’re not. It’s not like we’re going to play them less hard, or we’re going to fold for the Braves. We got to go out and play the same type of baseball we’ve been playing. We can’t really control anything besides that. Play as hard as you can, and you don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff. It’s not like I’m going to change my game plan because they are in the race.”
If the Nationals wanted for motivation, they could turn their attention toward the race for third place, where they have never finished in their brief history.
“Try to win ball games,” Espinosa said. “I don’t care if I’m in last place, fourth place. We can always go for third place. There is always something. At the same time, you carry your own pride. Do you really want to get embarrassed that much? That’s not the type of person I am. I’m still going to fight for a win everyday.
“As a team, nothing has been set. We’ve talked about trying to win third place, but there is always something to fight for. If you can finish the season better than you did last year, whatever it is, there is always something to fight for.”
Staff writer Michael Lee contributed to this report.