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Nats slowly inching closer to contention

Aug 28, 2013, 12:12 AM EDT

MLB: Miami Marlins at Washington Nationals

The Nationals are not keeping one eye on the out-of-town scoreboard as they stand at the plate, in the field or on the mound. They aren’t huddled around the clubhouse TVs watching pennant race games and living and dying with each momentum swing. Ask anybody on the roster how many games back they are at any given moment and you’re unlikely to get a correct response.

“We’re playing good right now on our own,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “It’s not really up to anybody else besides ourselves. All we can do is go out and play, and the rest will take care of itself.”

Desmond is partially correct. The Nationals are playing quite well right now. Their 2-1 victory over the Marlins Tuesday night was their 12th over their last 17 games, easily their best stretch of the season.

But it doesn’t matter how well the Nationals play over the final five weeks of what has to this point been a disappointing year unless somebody ahead of them in the standings simultaneously falls apart.

That hasn’t happened yet. But if nothing else, the gap is slowly diminishing.

The Reds lost their second straight in St. Louis on Tuesday. All of a sudden, the Nationals’ deficit in the NL Wild Card race is down to seven games, six in the loss column.

That’s still a hefty difference to make up in only five weeks. But this race isn’t officially over just yet.

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  1. NatsLady - Aug 28, 2013 at 5:46 AM

    What is this? Optimism? You like our six-percent chance? As opposed to the three-percent chance we had a couple days ago? ;)

    Tightrope Walkers

    http://ladyandthenats.blogspot.com/2013/08/week-22-game-131-nats-vs-marlins.html

  2. farazs1 - Aug 28, 2013 at 5:56 AM

    seven is much closer than some 9 or 10 games difference there was. if we can be 5.5 games out at the end of August, I would be happy. just try to make up one game per series or something.

    Next start for Ohlendorf should be on September 1st so why not stick with him and use the bigger bullpen to support him? Hope Roark does well too.

  3. timdz - Aug 28, 2013 at 6:58 AM

    I wouldn’t mind seeing Roark start this Sunday. He’s been impressive in long relief and this would be a good time to try him out as a starter….pitting him against a Mets team that is starting to get dismantled….instead of starting him against the braves….

    • ghostofstevem - Aug 28, 2013 at 8:02 AM

      Did you see what that Mets starter Jon Niese did last night?

      Complete game shutout. There’s no laughers until after the game is done.

  4. natsfan1a - Aug 28, 2013 at 7:27 AM

    You’re toying with us, Mark. I kind of like it. :-)

    On another note, doesn’t a certain fella have a milestone birthday coming up? (Yeah, two is considered a milestone.)

  5. MicheleS - Aug 28, 2013 at 7:45 AM

    HA.. still haven’t figured out how to post from my phone. But was in the Fancy Seats again last night (they were a friends RCR points) !!! And guess who was sitting in front of me – Boras. He was there for like 3 innings and disappeared to follow the Hockey players around (no doubt trying to rope in more clients). But the funny thing was, while he was sitting in the seats he was constantly on his phone. And who was he texting with.. .our old buddy Xavier Nady. I had a chuckle with that. Got lots of great pics again, so be on the look out for some on the tweeter.

    Oh. and 1a.. yes, I believe that the 2nd birthday is a milestone as well, so hopefully our future CF/Cy Young winner will be celebrating in style!

    • ghostofstevem - Aug 28, 2013 at 8:07 AM

      You wrote exactly what I was thinking pregame when I heard Boras was there at the same time as the hockey All Stars. Cue in phone call to the NHLPA. Boras starts working on becoming a certified agent. Leaves arm in arm with Patrick Kane discussing his Free Agency. Ha!

  6. nats106 - Aug 28, 2013 at 8:08 AM

    Last night’s takeaways: Great night for baseball. It was a little hot and humid, but not opporessively. I heard from reliable sources that the Marlins bullpen was talking s*** to Harper on the fly ball hit to left center. Methinks I need to give some back to them prior to start time.

    New walk up tunes for several players. Can’t remember Rendon’s, but I miss that Dr Dre stuff. Zimmermann was “Radioactive” (hmmm) and Harper’s was the old Journey song. “Don’t stop believing”.

    We are closing in.

    • Candide - Aug 28, 2013 at 8:52 AM

      Meanwhile, in the new-blog-issues department:

      Avatars work on my Android phone, but not on my Android tablet and not on my desktop Windows PC.

      I like avatars.

      • Candide - Aug 28, 2013 at 8:53 AM

        Argh. That was supposed to be a new comment, not a reply.

  7. Theophilus T.S. - Aug 28, 2013 at 8:40 AM

    As I recall, the Braves were way, way back last August, then went on a streak where they refused to lose, Ended up pulling within a couple of games. Instead of plodding through one series win after another, I think the path is a torrid streak in which they lose no more than three or four to the Marlins, Mutts, etc. This sets up because the Marlins, Mets, Phils have no more than 3-4 really good pitchers between them. Many opportunities to beat up on second-liners, end-of-the-season call ups, etc. The aim is to be two back on September 15. The Nats get there by winning 15 while the Reds win 10.

    The last week-and-a half of the season is a bitch. If they’re close at that point, anything could happen.

    • mrsblovesthenats - Aug 28, 2013 at 8:46 AM

      This is why it was so important for us to beat the Phils and Marlins(?) before the AS break… But the Nats have to beat the good teams on a consistent basis as well…

      I havent given up on the season (and I wont until the end of the season)… I do believe we can do it…

  8. mrsblovesthenats - Aug 28, 2013 at 8:44 AM

    Last night’s story of the game to me was the BP… That is the kind of performance many of us were hoping for from our BP on a much more consistent basis… Storen, Clip and even Sori did their jobs well last night..

    Of course, I wish we had scored more runs but at the end of the day, we scored enough to win…

    • nats106 - Aug 28, 2013 at 8:48 AM

      Agreed. I was fully expecting to stop at Hard Times on the way home for wings. I was bitterly disappointed. Expecting the bats to arrive at National sometime before 7 from the road trip. I will be picking up free wings soon enough.

      Reds have Pirates, Mets, Pirates last 9 games. Cardinals will be tough-I really believe this goes to the final week.

  9. Theophilus T.S. - Aug 28, 2013 at 8:50 AM

    Much as the credit goes to the BP, the difference in last night’s game was that the defense didn’t blow it. Several plus plays — including at both corners — and otherwise solid. If at any point the defense had given Miami an extra out or base, things could have been much more dicey.

    Long run, Roark looks like more of a reliever than a starter. Both Ks came on an unusual 92-93 mph fastball that started out more or less in the middle of the strike zone then ran up and in on a right-handed batter. Very, very effective on hitters he is seeing for the first time, less so after everybody in the league sees it in person or on film. That’s OK; all he has to do is get them to the end of the season.

    Clippard doesn’t need to “close” to be a closer. His three outs in the eighth were the most important three outs of the game. Johnson should continue to use him for those outs, not reflexively hold him back for the ninth.

    • Steady Eddie - Aug 28, 2013 at 9:56 AM

      Agree with you and 222 on Clip — the point is to put him into the highest leverage situations to the extent you can identify when they are coming in late innings. And given how weak the Fish’s lineup is, last night that was clearly the 8th, meaning Stanton.

      Not so sure about Roark being a once-around-the-lineup guy who will be figured out on second viewing. In his 4 inning stint against the Barves, he K’d JUp twice and got Heyward to ground out and then K. That’s obviously only suggestive as a miniscule sample, but against tough competition it suggests at least that the jury is still out on what he shapes up as. But in the short run, I see no reason not to make him Ohlendorf’s BP tag teamer, considering that he’s just come up to the show for the first time. Keep the pressure on him moderate.

    • masterfishkeeper - Aug 28, 2013 at 10:50 AM

      Boy, do I agree with these comments. Roark was a little lucky last night. I was happy that Soriano did not have to face the heart of the order.

  10. Candide - Aug 28, 2013 at 8:53 AM

    Meanwhile, in the new-blog-issues department:

    Avatars work on my Android phone, but not on my Android tablet and not on my desktop Windows PC.

    I like avatars.

  11. Section 222 - Aug 28, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    It was nice to be back at the park last night and to see a good clean win. Distressing that once again the offense pretty much shut down after the first inning. I would have felt a lot better going into the 9th with a 3-1 or 4-1 lead.

    Clipp is a beast. Steps right up and challenges one of the premier power hitters in the game today, and sends him back to the dugout shaking his head. Great stuff. I agree totally with Theo on both Clipp and Roark.

  12. Section 222 - Aug 28, 2013 at 9:02 AM

    Just a note to everyone here whose handle is a poor imitation of the one we’ve all come to know and love. E.g., ghostofstevem, mrsblovesthenats, farazs1. If you click on your name in the upper right hand corner of the screen, then click on “Public Profile”, you can change the name that is visible here. Remember to Save Changes. I hope tht Ghost of SteveM and Mrs B Loves the Nats will be back with us. This is how Sofa will continue to undergo personality transplants at will. natsfan1a will always be natsfan1a.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 28, 2013 at 9:24 AM

      Geez, can’t a guy put on a clean shirt once in a while?

      • Candide - Aug 28, 2013 at 9:28 AM

        You got something against personality transplants?

      • natsfan1a - Aug 28, 2013 at 9:40 AM

        Okay, but don’t mess with a streak. :-)

    • Candide - Aug 28, 2013 at 9:27 AM

      Mark – is there some way to make this comment a “sticky,” i.e. a comment that stays at the top of the blog or something? At least for a while, until all the old NI regulars are aboard?

  13. nats1924 - Aug 28, 2013 at 9:20 AM

    I kinda want to chat about this harp/12yr contract talk….

    If I were the Lerners I’d walk so far away from these type of deals.

    Just look at the disasters and then look at the teams that let these players walk……

    – Cardinals, Rays, M’s (by not signing Arod), etc.

    $300M+ can buy a lot of talent

    • bowdenball - Aug 28, 2013 at 11:12 AM

      The deals you’re referring to were free agent deals for players already in their late 20s. This would be a long term extension to buy out pre-arbitration and arbitration deals along with several prime years at what would otherwise be the first part of the player’s free agency. In fact the Rays, whom you praise, have Evan Longoria under club control for the next ten years under a buyout deal. The Cardinals also commonly extend guys they like well before they reach free agency, having recently given both Molina and Wainwright nine figure extensions.

      You just can’t compare a 12 year extension for a 20 year old to a 8-10 year free agent deal. They are completely different things. Early extensions are the new wave for front offices because they allow the teams to keep players through their prime years, and in exchange the player gets long-term financial security that won’t disappear if there’s an injury and doesn’t have to go through the ups and downs of arbitration. Everyone is doing it. The Nats would be crazy not to consider it for Harper. The only question is how much and for now long. I think he’s certainly worth over $200 million/$20 million a year right now.

  14. Joe Seamhead - Aug 28, 2013 at 9:21 AM

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that we played good defense and the pitchers did their jobs, but we left a small village on the bases again, and that Marlins team is a very bad team. When we get runners on with no outs we must do a better job of keeping the line moving.

    BTW, Rendon’s play at the end was terrific.

    It would be nice for Davey if Ryan Mattheus pitches to his 2012 levels. It really would give Johnson a lot more flexibility in handeling the bullpen in later innings. Mattheus is still a knucklehead for his stupidity of challenging a locker with his pitching hand.

    I also like avatars. They make it easier to scroll through the long blogs. We all will adjust to this new format, but I feel even clumsier than my normal self.

    • Candide - Aug 28, 2013 at 9:25 AM

      Rendon’s still developing as a second baseman, but he’s well on his way. Not just a great arm, but an instinctive feel for where first base is and slinging it there while spinning around after snagging a ball to his right. Love watching him do that.

      Espinosa was an excellent second baseman. Rendon will be, at least, a very good one. And he knows how to hit, something Espi’s still working on.

      • sonnyg10 - Aug 28, 2013 at 10:55 AM

        Ditto!

  15. jd - Aug 28, 2013 at 9:33 AM

    Theo and 222,

    Agree on Clip although I am not convinced that Davie sent him out for the 8th because of who the hitters were (that would be good) but rather because he normally sends him out for the 8th. Tell me you weren’t nervous in the 9th regardless who the hitters were.

    Also agree with everyone who thinks we should stick with Ross in the 5th spot. As Ghost mentioned yesterday they can bring up a bunch of pitchers on Sunday so going 5 strong innings is not a terrible tragedy.

    7 games is still an enormous deficit.

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Aug 28, 2013 at 10:56 AM

      Shah Shah Shah…. We will overcome the 7 games… just continue to take it 1 game at a time… we can do this!

    • ghostofstevem - Aug 28, 2013 at 11:18 AM

      Right you are JD. I wasn’t sure if Clip was on a new role or not until after the game Davey seemed to indicate no change in his closer. Pregame he did the ole wait and see.

      I also think Clip better watch out the next time he faces Stanton. The first pitch was in his turbo zone. When was the last time Stanton went down on 3?

      Roles are defined better today. If this was April you could experiment flipping Roark for Ohlendorf. That’s dangerous when you need Wins. On Sunday, Davey will have an 11 man bullpen. Not as bug of a deal if Ohlie goes 5 shutout innings and the bullpen goes 4.

      Get the W’s now and worry about style points later.

  16. Joe Seamhead - Aug 28, 2013 at 10:26 AM

    Meanwhile down on the farms:

    Billy Burns has played even better since getting moved up to Harrisburg. He’s now hitting .355 and has 13 steals in 15 attempts.

    Zach Walters now has 35 errors. Even with all of those home runs there is nowhere for him at the ML level if he doesn’t learn to catch and throw better.

    While still struggling badly at the plate, Danny Espinosa also has 11 errors in 70 games, which are much worse than his career norms at any level.

    • sonnyg10 - Aug 28, 2013 at 10:56 AM

      Sounds like Danny is taking his hitting problems into the field with him.

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Aug 28, 2013 at 11:00 AM

      Its obvious that injury is bothering him… I refuse to believe his drop in production can be this massive without a reason…

      He should have gotten everything fixed (shoulder, wrist, ____) and just gotten himself together for next season…

    • ghostofstevem - Aug 28, 2013 at 11:23 AM

      As I have said at least a dozen times on Zach Walter is that he is a poor fielder and I don’t see him improving. He is a bundle of nerves out there. I saw him 1 game in person and he booted 2 balls in 1 inning. I will repeat it again, move him to the outfield. He will never be a viable MLB middle infielder or 3rd baseman.

      • Joe Seamhead - Aug 28, 2013 at 12:09 PM

        Ghost, I never liked the whole “stick him in the outfield” mentality. They tried it with Chris Marrero and he was gawd awful. Bad outfielding kills your pitchers. The guy is slow and has a brick for a glove. Maybe the answer in his case is an AL team.

      • ghostofstevem - Aug 28, 2013 at 12:43 PM

        Joe, there are only 2 places for guys like Walters and that’s 1st base or the outfield, and I don’t see him as a 1st baseman. If he was a Wide Receiver in the NFL they would call him stone hands and in the MLB the equivalent is stone glove. If Walters was a can’t miss hitter than he could DH. He just looks AAA to me at best. At 23, he may improve slightly as a fielder and has room to grow as a hitter, but he will never be a viable middle infielder or 3rd baseman from what I have seen and I’ve said it for 2 years and when the Nats got him.

        This is why Arizona got rid of him. His bat is what is getting him noticed.

  17. texnat1 - Aug 28, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    It would be huge for the Nats mentally if they could peel off another game tonight. It would be equally bad for the Reds psyche. Cincinnati faced Wainwright tonight, so here’s hoping.

  18. Mrsb loves the Nats - Aug 28, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    Lets see if it works, 222

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Aug 28, 2013 at 10:54 AM

      Thanks 222… It did… I thought I had to create a blog and some more…

  19. hiramhover - Aug 28, 2013 at 10:58 AM

    My first effort to comment under the new regime – let’s see how it goes!

    I’m with everyone in being pleased with the Nats recent performance and rooting for more good baseball.

    I can’t, however, do the daily “they’re not quite out of it yet!” routine. Moving from 2 to 6% playoff odds (or whatever) just doesn’t do much for me.

  20. Theophilus T.S. - Aug 28, 2013 at 11:20 AM

    I agree Clippard went out for the eighth because that’s where Johnson uses him, not because of what Eddie calls “leverage.” my point was that Clippard needs to be used for leverage, not as strictly the ninth inning guy. Yes I was nervous in the ninth even with the bottom of the order beginning to line up. But that was because it was Soriano more than anything else and if Soriano had pitched to the same batters in the eighth that Clippard faced we all would have needed diapers.

    There are limitations on the manager’s ability to put a particular pitcher in a “leverage” situation — specifically, how many times can you ask a reliever to warm up? Last night was an easy case. As soon as Storen got the last out in the top of the seventh, Johnson knew who was coming up for Miami in the top of the eighth and that that was the point in the game where Clippard was most needed unless, maybe, the Nats scored six in the bottom of the seventh. So Clippard had a half inning to warm up and needed to warm up only once. Call it what it is, “Closer by committee.”

    • ghostofstevem - Aug 28, 2013 at 11:32 AM

      Theo, I agree with you there. Last night there was no margin for error. 2 guys can beat you on 1 swing and that is Stanton and LoMo.

      It worked out perfectly that Clip got Stanton. Soriano got away with that hangar to Ruggiano. He was lucky that it was just a harmless single.

      Luck plays a big part of this game.

  21. Sonny G 10 - Aug 28, 2013 at 11:32 AM

    Tweeked my handle. Test.

    • Sonny G 10 - Aug 28, 2013 at 11:33 AM

      Good, it worked.

  22. ghostofstevem - Aug 28, 2013 at 11:33 AM

    Luck plays a big part of this game. Nats are creating their own luck by putting more balls into play and letting BABIP work for them. Tonight Ramos may have 2 drop in and same for Werth.

  23. TimDz - Aug 28, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    The Reds play one more in St. Louis tonight, are off Thursday and then play three in Colorado….

    After that, they have a homestand, but play the Cards again four times, followed by the Dodgers for three….
    By the end of next weekend, this could get a whole lot closer…

    Also remember that we finish our season playing Arizona (in AZ)…THAT series may be head to head for the last playoff slot….

  24. veejh - Aug 28, 2013 at 12:00 PM

    Technically, we’re still in it. I’ll keep thinking the season if over until we actually tie the Reds. No need for false hope.

  25. Theophilus T.S. - Aug 28, 2013 at 12:18 PM

    My impression is that the Rockies are better at home than on the road although I can’t find the team record to prove it.

    In any event, Coors Field equalizes a lot of things, especially pitching, so I can be optimistic they’ll chop a game or two off Cincinnati’s lead.

    • Steady Eddie - Aug 28, 2013 at 12:27 PM

      Rockies are 37-28 at home, 25-44 on the road. Field effect indeed.

      • Steady Eddie - Aug 28, 2013 at 12:31 PM

        Of course, part of that home record may be due to who they haven’t played yet: 3 vs. Reds, 3 vs. dodgers, 4 vs. Cards, 3 vs. Dbacks — and finishing with 2 vs. Red Sox.

        Let’s hope they keep up something like that .569 winning percentage by the end of THOSE 2 homestands.

    • nats106 - Aug 28, 2013 at 12:28 PM

      You’re right: Rockies are37-28 @ home 25-44 away. However that line up of Bruce, Votto, Phillips, etc looks pretty powerful in the thin air.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 28, 2013 at 12:34 PM

      Rockies’ splits 2013

  26. Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 28, 2013 at 12:31 PM

    Do you suppose the Nats Insider NIDO Glossary should be listed on the blogroll?

    I added (feel free to emend) a few lines on how to log in and change your handle here, on the how-to page.

    • Sonny G 10 - Aug 28, 2013 at 12:34 PM

      thanks, sofa

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 28, 2013 at 12:36 PM

        Maybe that should be the blog no one has to create…

        Deuces, what says youse?

  27. Section 222 - Aug 28, 2013 at 12:40 PM

    It’s kind of funny that the day after Mark laid out in great detail just how long the odds are for the Nats to make the playoffs, we get a post, after picking up just one game in the standings, that suggests that maybe, possibly, we have a chance. Sorry, but that ship sailed when we got swept by the Dodgers and lost 3 of 4 to the Pirates, if not when we lost 5 of 7 to the Marlins and Phils just before the break.

    I’ve gone through anger and am now at acceptance. We can beat up on bad teams, but we can’t beat good teams. That makes us what we are, a .500 team. Sad to say, that’s just what the LoD said back in May.

    JD, right you are about why Davey used Clip in the 8th. James Wagner wrote a post yesterday suggesting Clipp might close down the stretch. I don’t see it. And yes, I was nervous in the 9th. I was also nervous in the 7th. The only reliever who can truly be relied on is Clipp. And I like him right where he is.

    Welcome back Mrsb. Now Ghost of Steve M, where are you?

    • ghostofstevem - Aug 28, 2013 at 12:46 PM

      I am computer inept. I had other people logging me in the last time Mark changed systems. I emailed a friend for assistance. Somehow I now have a WordPress blog!

    • TimDz - Aug 28, 2013 at 12:56 PM

      It may be a long shot 222, but it is not out of the realm of possibility…

      As I noted above, if we can take advantage of our schedule and the Reds run into some difficulty iver the nextten days, the Nats could find themselves less than five out….

      Your thoughts (even though I’m not one of the cool kids, and you all tend to just talk amongst yourselves)?

    • natsfan1a - Aug 28, 2013 at 1:10 PM

      awww, come on. Can’t you work in a little denial stage, first? (Yeah, I’m bargaining. ;-))

      222 said…

      I’ve gone through anger and am now at acceptance.

  28. Section 222 - Aug 28, 2013 at 12:42 PM

    Sofa, I’d be delighted to see NIDO on the blogroll if our fearless leader is amenable.

  29. Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 28, 2013 at 12:51 PM

    Sec 222, it took him a minute to do it. New screen name.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 28, 2013 at 12:53 PM

      Next I need my great Avatar photo of Davey holding his Johnson.

      • natsfan1a - Aug 28, 2013 at 1:11 PM

        Avatars would be awesome. Wait, what?

        Ghost of Steve M. said…

        Next I need my great Avatar photo of Davey holding his Johnson.

      • paul brandt - Aug 28, 2013 at 1:17 PM

        that is a classic avatar Ghost

  30. letswin3 - Aug 28, 2013 at 1:12 PM

    I like this “Never Say Die” approach to the remainder of the season. Statisically it may be 6%, or whatever, but statistics dont throw nasty sliders, or deliver the heat for 3 straight pitches to Stanton (followed by a fistpump), or sit on someones curveball to deliver a rbi or slide hard into second to bust up a dp. And that’s what I see from these Nats……they aren’t capable of throwing in the towel, and until such time as they are statistically rendered irrelivant, I expect them to give the full 100% effort. And I will watch every game with positive expectations because these guys have earned my support. They may not make it, but as long as I see that steely stare from Drew as he watched the action after completing his inning, or Werth and Harper gutting it out with all their aches and pains, you can count me in too. We won the first one against the fish last night, now letswin3.

  31. naterialguy - Aug 28, 2013 at 2:59 PM

    “and with god as my witness I will never go hungry again”

    • natsfan1a - Aug 28, 2013 at 3:59 PM

      I’ll think about that tomorrow…

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