Aug 28, 2014, 10:26 AM EDT
PHILADELPHIA — The Nationals arrived here late Sunday night, feeling like they could do no wrong after a 9-1 homestand catapulted them to the top of the NL standings and turned them into the talk of baseball.
They left here late Wednesday night, feeling as down in the dumps as they’d been in quite some time after a 3-game sweep at the hands of the last-place Phillies, a development nobody saw coming.
“Philly outplayed us these last three days,” center fielder Denard Span said. “Out-pitched us, out-hit us. That’s why we’ve got to continue to grind.”
If these last three nights are a reminder of anything, it’s this: There are no givens in baseball. Anybody can beat anybody else on any given night. Or even three straight nights.
It’s easy to look at this series and question whether the Nationals truly are on the path toward something special, or whether these losses point to some fundamental flaw about this team. How could any ballclub that got swept by a last-place opponent be considered a true World Series contender?
Well, they can, because pretty much every World Series-winning team of the last two decades has hit a similar bump in the road sometime late in the season.
There have been 19 World Series champions during the so-called “Wild Card Era,” since MLB expanded the playoffs in 1995. And of those 19 champions, 18 experienced a losing streak of at least three games sometime in August or September (many of them to last-place opponents). The lone exception: The 2012 Giants, who managed to avoid three straight losses down the stretch en route to their second title in three years.
Point is, good teams lose three straight games all the time. It’s not necessarily a reflection of the bigger picture.
“We’re still playing good baseball,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “We just happened to lose a couple of games.”
Now, it doesn’t help matters that the Nationals had to board a 6-hour, all-night flight to Seattle after Wednesday’s loss, with the daunting task of a week’s worth of games against the tough Mariners and Dodgers looming.
But this team has been very good all season at following manager Matt Williams’ mantra: Good, bad or indifferent, you can’t dwell on what happened the previous day or look beyond the next day. They didn’t get too high after their recent winning streak. And they didn’t get too low after this sweep.
“In a 162-game season, you have to forget about today or yesterday and go and get the next one,” right-hander Doug Fister said. “We have a nice day off tomorrow in Seattle. We’re going to enjoy that. You have to have amnesia. You have to be able to forget about it and move on.”
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