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One loss makes Nats’ challenge even tougher

Sep 19, 2013, 1:29 AM EDT

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Any other time this season, under any other circumstance, the Nationals would have been perfectly satisfied to take two of three games from the Braves.

Not right now. Not under these circumstances.

“It’s just not enough,” manager Davey Johnson said. “We just can’t afford to lose. It’s that simple.”

The Nationals’ 5-2 loss to Atlanta on Wednesday night didn’t completely kill their chances of a miraculous, late-season charge into the playoffs, but it did make the challenge all the more daunting now.

Especially after the Reds won a 13-inning thriller against the Astros early Thursday morning, leaving the Nationals 5 1/2 games back in the NL Wild Card race with only 10 to play. Merely holding ground for another day isn’t good enough at this late stage. They certainly can’t afford to lose ground.

“It gets harder, yeah,” said first baseman Adam LaRoche, keeping one eye on a clubhouse TV showing the game in Houston. “That’s why we’ve got the Reds game on now. Again, it’s tough counting on another team to melt down for you, but that’s the position we’re in.”

The Nationals entered the week having beaten the Braves only four times in 16 tries this season, a large reason for the 10 games that separated the two division rivals in the standings when this series began. But then the Nats won both ends of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader and suddenly took the field Wednesday night with a chance to sweep the series and continue their torrid September charge.

They put themselves in position to do it, taking a 2-0 lead during a wild bottom of the fifth in which Jayson Werth drew a bases-loaded walk on a borderline inside pitch called a ball by C.B. Bucknor, ultimately leading to the ejections of both Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez and left-hander Alex Wood.

“That’s C.B.,” Johnson said. “He’s got a little different strike zone.”

Given that 2-run lead, Ross Ohlendorf took the mound for the top of the sixth, hoping to finish off a dominating start in which he faced the minimum 15 batters through five innings. But the veteran right-hander, as he’s done on several occasions this year, crumbled late.

Ohlendorf faced six batters in the sixth. He served up a homer to the first (Dan Uggla), committed an egregious throwing error on the second, nearly served up a 2-run homer to the third and then did serve up a 2-run homer to the fifth (Justin Upton).

“Just made a bad pitch to Upton, and he did a good job hitting it,” Ohlendorf said. “I felt strong the whole time. I felt like that’s about as good as I’ve pitched. It’s just really disappointing the way it turned out.”

Thrust into an emergency starter’s role because of injuries, Ohlendorf has both dazzled and confounded the Nationals. He has been brilliant at times, especially early in starts, boasting a 1.93 ERA in innings 1-4. But he appears to hit a wall after that, with an ERA that skyrockets to 7.84 in innings 5-7.

Ohlendorf insists his arm feels fine as he gets deeper into games, that he doesn’t run out of gas. The results, though, suggest something changes for him the more innings he pitches on a given night.

“He was still throwing pretty good, still throwing 93-94, but he just didn’t locate the pitch to Upton,” Johnson said. “Got the ball up. Cool night, still feeling pretty good. Even when he came in, I told him that was it. He was kind of questioning me. So I don’t think it was one of those cases where he ran completely out of gas.”

The Nationals still had a chance to rally late, but the one-run deficit became two runs and then three after the Braves plated a couple of insurance runs. Despite a dramatic, bottom-of-the-ninth rally off Craig Kimbrel Tuesday afternoon, they went down in order this time against the All-Star closer.

So the Nationals trudged off the field at the end of the night. They took two of three from the soon-to-be division champs, they’ve won 10 of their last 12 games, 27 of their last 38. But one measly loss on Wednesday quickly put a damper on all that.

“I mean, it’s definitely disappointing,” Ohlendorf said. “We’ve been winning almost every game. We certainly can’t win the rest, but any loss is going to be disappointing. Any time you lose, but especially now.”

  1. ehay2k - Sep 19, 2013 at 2:58 AM

    Was listening to the audio feed on MLB site and kept thinking that Davey needed to get Ohlendorf out of there soon. One batter too late. Perhaps two.

    For my tastes, Ohlendorf thinks he is too clever and tries to trick the hitter with his “batting practice fastball” which of course is a change of speed, but with less movement than a proper changeup. Those pitches leave the ballpark far too often, especially when they are left up. He needs to drop that pitch.

  2. Faraz Shaikh - Sep 19, 2013 at 6:29 AM

    It was nice while it lasted. I am glad that at least we kept Braves from celebrating on our field.

    • karlkolchak - Sep 19, 2013 at 7:48 AM

      Yep–that’s something at least, as is not rolling over and playing dead. I just hope it does not lead to any off season complacency as most of the surge was aided by playing the dregs of thhe awful NL Least. The Nats are currently 35-20 against the Marlins, Mets and Philthies heading into this last home series, but under .500 otherwise.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Sep 19, 2013 at 7:55 AM

        I think we underperformed this season and yes, we do need couple of pieces to get back into the race. Those 3 teams will still be there next season. Marlins may be without Stanton for all we know. Phillies could be without Halladay and Ruiz. Harvey might change his mind and get that surgery done. I will need to double-check this but I don’t think nationals won as consistently against Phillies and Mets before ASG as they did after. the 35-20 record is great now but I don’t think it was that good at ASB. What I am trying to say is that we may have improved our play, not just quality of the opponent.

    • Eric - Sep 19, 2013 at 9:53 AM

      “I am glad that at least we kept Braves from celebrating on our field.”

      AND that Denard’s streak is intact! Go Span!!!

  3. MicheleS - Sep 19, 2013 at 7:17 AM

    To quote Mr. Blutarski “Was it OVER when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor???????”

    Nope… we ain’t dead yet (we may be on life support)… but the Reds or the Pirates need to take that series and we need to sweep the Fish this weekend. We can realistically lose 1 in STL, but that might be the one that knocks us out.

  4. natsfan1a - Sep 19, 2013 at 8:02 AM

    Didn’t see the entire game and went to bed (okay, fell asleep on the couch first) before the end. I really wanted them to sweep the Braves but so it goes. As Michele notes, it’s not over yet. In other news, that Wood kid really has some mouth on him, eh?

  5. natsfan1a - Sep 19, 2013 at 8:03 AM

    I see that the time stamps are still out of whack.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Sep 19, 2013 at 8:14 AM

      I don’t see anything wrong.

      • natsfan1a - Sep 19, 2013 at 8:39 AM

        I posted a new comment rather than a reply. That comment appears in sequence before two comments that had been posted earlier. That is what I see wrong.

  6. laddieblahblah - Sep 19, 2013 at 9:10 AM

    Ohly and Roark are 11-1, combined. Anyone in their right mind would take that. The Nats just fell too far behind and imploded around the AS break, just before and just after, and went from 4-5 games back all the way down to 17 games back.

    They have to win out. And, apparently, they will have to do it without Strasburg and without Detwiler. That’s what they have to do, and if they can, we’ll see what happens. The Rangers have collapsed, and the Braves, really, look pathetic lately. The Buccos have just lost 3 in a row to the Padres. Either the Pirates or the Reds now have to collapse in order for the Nats to get in, but only if they win out.

    Whether they get in, or not, they have fought like hell and played like champs.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Sep 19, 2013 at 9:31 AM

      Well said Laddie. Love the fight in these guys.

      • Eric - Sep 19, 2013 at 9:54 AM

        Agreed! September baseball has been unspeakably fun this year.

  7. Whynat - Sep 19, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    Bucs just lost 3 in a row to the Pads. I think Bucs are our best bet for the el foldo. Rooting for the Padres to win today, and Reds to take 5 of 6.

  8. natsdoc - Sep 19, 2013 at 9:39 AM

    Disappointing effort last night, particularly by Davey, who seems to be off his game. We should have seen Hairston and Moore in the lineup last night against the left-hander Wood. I am surprised that Davey didn’t have anybody warming up in the top of the sixth. Ohlendorf’s MO has been so predictable: excellent effort for 4-5 innings, then he falls off the table. Based on past experience, he should have been pulled after Uggla’s home run. Then, why go to Mattheus in the 8th (and particularly for two innings?). Cedeno and Abad should have been used earlier. The poor umpiring seemed to inspire the Braves and we just looked flat. Also, I don’t believe that I have ever seen a rookie pitcher jaw directly at the umpire like Wood did: that is not going to be good for his career. Umpires tend to remember those type of guys and it won’t help him with borderline strikes in the future.

  9. NatsLady - Sep 19, 2013 at 10:07 AM

    All right, I was hoping the Stros would take 1/3 and they gave it a good effort in the final game, but no go. Win tonight. We can pick up .5 game with a win vs Reds who are off, and 1 full game vs Pirates they lose. The “hump” for us seems to be getting under 4 back. I’d like to see three, then two by end of play on Sunday night. It ain’t over.

    If by some chance, and I mean some REMOTE chance, the Cards flop four games straight, then we have our destiny in our own hand.

    Cards have Wacha vs Oswalt tonight. Oswalt seems terrible (0-6, 7.71 ERA). But he is pitching for a job next year–if he has anything at all, he will use it.

    Cards then have three against the Brewers in their house. Brewers… Brewers…

  10. Section 222 - Sep 19, 2013 at 10:42 AM

    Let’s face it, the Nats were toast in late July, and certainly after the Braves swept us in early August. Even with this incredible August/September run, which no one could have predicted after that third Braves game, we’re not going to make it. Just too much ground to make up. Relying on a good team (the Reds/Pirates/Cards/Braves) to have an epic collapse is not a recipe for success. But they’ve certainly made it interesting and fun for the last month. Have to give them a lot of credit for not throwing in the towel, even when the chances were slim to none they could make it to the postseason.

    Like karlkochak, I hope that our late season surge against bad teams does not lead Rizzo to “stand pat” during the offseason on the theory that guys just need to play to their potential for us to win it all next year. We need to be able to beat the good teams as well as the bad. While we have a fine above average team as is, that’s not good enough.

    I saw this mind bending factoid this morning. Billy Hamiilton stole four bases last night, one on a pitchout! How do they leave that guy off the postseason roster? Anyway, the last time a Red stole four bases in a game was Felipe Lopez on May 10, 2006 . . . against the Washington Nationals!

  11. NatsLady - Sep 19, 2013 at 11:03 AM

    Davey said on the radio (Wednesday) he “slept like a baby” after the DH sweep and got up at 6 am. I heard that, I was already nervous for the night game.

    So, he forgot that when the bells strikes for the 6th inning, Ross Ohlendorf turns into a pumpkin. Doesn’t matter the pitch count, weather, that he says his arm “feels fine,” it’s a fact, pumpkin. Left “The Big Windup” in to

    (a) Give up a HR.
    (b) Fail to field a bunt and make a 2 base throwing error
    (c) Give up another HR.

    And there went the 2-0 lead. Now, Stammen coming in for the 6th clean, or after the HR–Stammen might have given up a run. But he wouldn’t have given up the lead.

    • jd - Sep 19, 2013 at 12:25 PM

      NL,

      Totally agree. Davey has to manage these games like playoff elimination games; he seems incapable of doing it.

      Letting Ohlendorf blow a lead in the 6th inning again is very disappointing. This is not April or May. Stammen and Cedeno should have been throwing at the start of the inning and Ohly should have been pulled after the Uggla HR.

      • NatsLady - Sep 19, 2013 at 12:50 PM

        Absolutely. Even if he convinces Davey he’s OK, then Davey should say, OK, but I’m having the bullpen warm up and one batter gets on, you’re out. That INCLUDES a HR.

  12. natsdoc - Sep 19, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    I am not sure any major roster changes are needed next year, unless Rizzo rolls the dice and goes after Robbie Cano (offer him $125 million for five years?). Instead, I would like to see a better use of the bench, more platoons, and better match-ups, rather than just running the same line-up out there day after day, which is what Davey seems to prefer. If the bench gets more playing time on a routine basis, they will play better and the regulars (especially RZim, LaRoche, and Ramos) will also play better, being more rested.
    Next year, I would like to see Moore platooning with LaRoche at first, Lombo getting more at-bats (usually against RHP, spelling RZim, Desi, and Rendon regularly) and Hairston spelling either Span or Harper against left-handers. I think Corey Brown will take the Shark’s place as a fourth outfielder and pinch-runner with some occasional starts in RF (to keep JWerth fresh) and lots of pinch-hitting. Tracy’s time is certainly over. Onion seems adequate as a second catcher. An injury-free Harper should be a monster next year and Rendon will improve. Span looks more comfortable and have finally adjusted to the NL and is stealing more bases, which we need. Cedeno, Abad, and Krol have all shown some ability as left-hander relievers, Stammen and Ohlendorf are fine as long relief, and Storen, Clippard, and Soriano will be set for the 7th-9th innings. Stras should have a great year next year. Gio and JZimm should be outstanding. Roark, Taylor Jordan, and Detwiler will vie for the 4th and 5th spots. Use Haren’s money to lock up Desi and JZimm long-term (or get Cano).
    I think next year’s team will have learned from this year’s disappointment and will be ready for show time. The choice of manager is key. I would love to see Joe Girardi: he would be perfect for this team at this time. Sciosca would also be great. If we can’t get either of these guys, I think Rizzo should take a chance on Matt Williams.

    • NatsLady - Sep 19, 2013 at 11:24 AM

      I partly agree, except about Detwiler. I would offer Haren $6-$8MM and see if he will bite. I would use Detwiler in the BP as the lefty long reliever until he proves he can be part of the rotation. I’m really, really dubious. If pitching one game in the WBC meant his MLB season was a waste, man, that’s pretty fragile.

      If you think Rendon will be good, then I wouldn’t go for Cano. It really depends on what you think of Rendon. Need a backup SS for Desi, and I’m not sure Zach Walters is it. Going to have to figure out whether guys like Marrero and Eury Perez are worth anything on the trade market, because you don’t want them blocking A and AA promotions.

    • Section 222 - Sep 19, 2013 at 11:35 AM

      This is a great optimistic assessment of the team, reminiscent of what everyone expected at the end of last year. In my view, it seriously overstates the potential of our current squad. I really hope, for example, that we can do better in the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation than filling them with two of Det, Jordan, and Roark. I don’t care about the money ,and I hope Haren doesn’t return. He failed this year and there’s little reason to believe he’ll be better next year. And there has to be a better LH outfielder bench option out there than Corey Brown. I guess we’re stuck with Hairston, but I wouldn’t be upset if he were replaced either. Lombo’s ok. So is Solano if Ramos is an iron man next year, but if he gets injured, I don’t think Solano is the answer for several weeks of being the No. 1.

      The real quandry among the starters is ALR. I like his defense obviously, but I don’t see him getting back to 2012 form. Maybe a platoon with Ty-Mo is the answer. I’m skeptical though. I guess I’m skepitcal of all our guys. This year has stung.

      • dgourds - Sep 19, 2013 at 1:25 PM

        I agree about Jordan and Detweiler, but in my book Roark has the 4th spot sewn up until he shows any sign of weakness. You could make the argument that he has shown more than even Strassburg did in his rookie year. I can’t say enough about his performance this year.

  13. Section 222 - Sep 19, 2013 at 11:14 AM

    Agreed NL. A true brain freeze for Davey. What was amazing to me was that he didn’t even get someone up in the bullpen right after Uggla’s HR. In the postgame, he said he figured he’d leave Ohlie in to face Upton, then go to the lefty. Well, how about bringing in a righty (maybe Storen, or even Davis), who wasn’t gassed and out of sorts to face Upton? One would think that if we’re treating each game like a playoff elimination game, a little more life out of the manager would be in order.

    All of this doesn’t change that fact that Desi couldn’t come through with two guys in scoring position in the bottom of the 5th. Getting 4 runs instead of 2 could have taken the life out of the Braves.

  14. dcwx61 - Sep 19, 2013 at 11:14 AM

    Well, It’s all over now baby blue
    but i’m not a man of constant sorrow
    yeah, sometimes we played with no direction home but
    next year we go electric!

  15. NatsLady - Sep 19, 2013 at 11:29 AM

    As for the “laughing GIo”==>I think the Biogenesis thing sobered him up, but so also did a couple of his meltdowns. After the last one, he said, “This is NOT who I am as a pitcher.”

  16. Section 222 - Sep 19, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    By the way, I seriously doubt Haren will accept that kind of pay cut. Somebody out there will pay him more than that.

    • NatsLady - Sep 19, 2013 at 12:03 PM

      Probably true, and he probably wants something closer to home, also. Maybe I would go up to $10MM. No more than that, though.

      • Section 222 - Sep 19, 2013 at 1:42 PM

        This is the kind of arm-chair GMing I don’t understand. Do you want Haren in our rotation or not? If you do, what does it matter whether you pay him $10 million or 11 million? If he had been paid $6 million this year, would you be happy with what he did?

        I don’t want a cheaper 5th starter next year, I want a better one.

      • Section 222 - Sep 19, 2013 at 3:33 PM

        Just for the record, we can probably agree that Haren’s first half was a disaster. Since the ASG, he has made 11 starts. Seven were quality starts. His ERA over that period was 3.82 and his WHIP was 1.005, kind of surprisingly low for his ERA. The Nats were 6-5 in his starts. No doubt he has been better in the second half of the season, holding up his end of the “let’s play .500 baseball with our 4 and 5 starters” bargain.

        But he was better at the end of last year too, and that wasn’t a sign that all was well. And I don’t think “getting used to the league” is an explanation for his failure. So the question for the offseason is whether we think we’ll get first half Dan Haren or second half Dan Haren next year. If we could be assured of second half Haren, I’d pay him whatever it takes. But given that he’ll be a year older, I’m inclined not to take that chance.

  17. letswin3 - Sep 19, 2013 at 4:52 PM

    Natsdoc, NatsLady and section222..you have all made the point earlier here, but I want to beat this dead horse. I’ve been harping on Davey’s inability to get a starter out of the game in a timely manner since I showed up on this site the day it morphed into this new format. Some have said he leaves them in for one too many hitters, and obviously again last night it was 6 too many hitters, all in the 6th inning. He fails to look at a pitchers history, and even what is happening at the moment. We have more relief guys out there than at any time this season, and he want’s to stretch Ohlendorf out in what is essentially a do or die game to make the playoffs? Then, when Ohlendorf gives up the dinger to Uggie, Davey LEAVES HIM IN? We’re still ahead, but Davey thinks the guy is gonna re-invent himself get another out or two….well, we know what happened, and what has happened numerous other times throughout the season. Davey just doesn’t have it anymore…I loved the guy when he played, I loved him when we needed someone from inside the organization to take over in mid-season, I even liked him when he managed in Baltimore and New York, but I will be genuinely excited to see him go. Replace him with a guy that will scream and yell a little, and not worry about some egos getting set aside in the interest of winning ballgames.

    Also, on Haren. I didn’t like his results for $13 million, or whatever he got from us, and I don’t want him back for any amount of money…his time too has passed. And, since I’m being so judgemental, how bout finding a trade for ALR over the winter..how bout an extra large bag of balls and a Baby Ruth….Moore is primed to explode as a hitter, and his defense is acceptable at first base…if Zim is moved to first, trade Moore too, because he looks to be the kind of hitter who needs at bats and doesn’t want to come off the bench.

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