The Washington Nationals sat through hours upon hours of rain this weekend, only to emerge with two wins against the Chicago Cubs that they could not get when these things still mattered, when they fought so hard that weekend at Wrigley Field and could only emerge with one.
But now, the Nationals are eight games back in the National League East and in the NL wild-card race, and they’re about to make their last swing through the three divisional cities they were supposed to rule. They begin the trip Monday in Philadelphia, have a one-day stop back in Washington on Thursday to play the Cubs one last time, then head to Atlanta and Miami. They are fending off elimination and a once-unthinkable losing season, the latter of which matters a great deal to everyone involved.
WILL IT BE A WASH?
The forecast for Philadelphia this week is nowhere near as ominous as it was in Washington over the weekend, but that’s like saying the Rockies are not as formidable as Everest. Rain is in the forecast every day, meaning the Nationals could be destined for more waiting. The teams don’t have any mutual days off from here, so these games will need to be played in these three days — or potentially after the last day of the season, if the outcome still matters.
The Nationals are already exhausted from a weekend of waiting that has now eliminated one of their few remaining days off. Another grueling week would leave them even more frayed as they head home for that game against the Cubs — which is supposed to take place as Hurricane Florence nears D.C.
The Phillies, once so promising, finally faded like most in the industry thought they might. They have lost their past nine series of three games or more, struggling to find the consistency that buoyed them early.
Among those Phillies the Nationals will deal with this week is Wilson Ramos, their old friend whom the Phillies secured for almost nothing in a trade that seemed certain to haunt the Nationals. As the Phillies have faded, so has the sting of that move, though the catcher is hitting .385 with a 1.049 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in September.
YOUNG AND OLD
As the season continues to march toward its muddy conclusion, Manager Dave Martinez and his staff will continue to balance the need to help veterans chase milestones while giving younger players a chance to showcase their talents. Martinez has already said he will find playing time for second baseman Adrian Sanchez against left-handed pitching, and he sat Adam Eaton all weekend in favor of Victor Robles. Martinez has since said Eaton will play all this week, but he could try to find more opportunities for him by sitting Bryce Harper or Juan Soto — though both are chasing milestones of their own.
Harper has never had a 100-RBI season and currently sits at 91, close enough to reach should he play every day for the rest of the season — particularly if he gets three games of at-bats at Citizens Bank Park, where he tends to hit the ball well. Soto is competing for Rookie of the Year honors and is hovering around .300. Both things matter in any season, but particularly in one when making the playoffs is all but certainly not an option.
In the bullpen, Martinez has his closer back in Sean Doolittle, and with him an emerging late-inning option in Greg Holland, who can set him up. Koda Glover has stabilized in a setup role, which is promising for 2019. Outside of those three, Martinez will look for opportunities to give recent call-ups a chance in the big situations that he hopes can test them — as trying as the outcome can sometimes be.
Monday: RHP Erick Fedde vs. RHP Jake Arrieta
Tuesday: RHP Tanner Roark vs. RHP Nick Pivetta
Wednesday: RHP Stephen Strasburg vs. RHP Aaron Nola