The Nationals won Tuesday night — just their second win on the homestand and third in the last 13 games — but it puts them in the improbable position of not only winning their third series over the Phillies since 2008 but also leaving Nationals Park with a .500 homestand.
Despite losing skids of two, five and three games between wins, the prospect of winning this series wasn’t lost on the Nationals.
The Nationals have been split at 1-1 with an opponent with a chance to win a series and failed six different times already this season.
“Here we are again, we’ve got a chance to win a series,” said right fielder Jayson Werth. “We’ve had our chances this year, we’ve had opportunities, we’ve been in games, we’ve had guys on, we’ve had the situation, we’ve had the matchup and for whatever reason we haven’t been able to get the job done enough.”
It’s tough to overstate what winning a series over the Phillies would mean. Sure it’d just be one series, but when you’ve lost 33 of the last 44 games you’ve played against a team, there are no baby steps.
It would potentially take John Lannan’s first career win over the Phillies in order for them to do it.
Before we get there, though, a few observations:
– It’s no longer accurate to say Michael Morse is heating up. He’s hot. With a nine-game hitting streak in the works, Morse continued his torrid May with a 3-for-5 night to finish the month with a .403 average, six homers and 15 RBI in the month.
Morse’s accomplishments Tuesday night rode second-fiddle to Danny Espinosa’s display of power but with him having somewhat squandered his first opportunity to be an everyday player in left field, the chance to play each day at first base is coming at a good time for Morse.
He even flashed some of his middle-infield prowess in the eighth inning Tuesday night with a diving scoop at first base to start a 3-5-1 double play
– Jason Marquis’s contributions Tuesday night also shouldn’t be overlooked. After getting pulled before becoming eligible for the win in the Nationals 17-5 throttling of the Orioles and then taking the loss in Milwaukee, Marquis bounced back nicely with 6 1/3 innings of two-run baseball against the Phillies.
It didn’t hurt that he was spotted to a five-run lead in the third inning but even after Marquis went away from his gameplan a little in the fifth and surrendered back-to-back home runs to Domonic Brown and John Mayberry to leadoff the inning, he regained his composure and returned to pounding the strike zone. He also set down three of the next four batters he faced and limited the damage to come away with his sixth win of the season.
“I fell behind those hitters,” he said. “I felt just as good before and after but having the five runs on the board makes it a little bit go unnoticed, we still had a 5-2 lead at that point but I was just trying to keep it there, not let it snowball and get any worse.”
– The Nationals center field situation couldn’t be any more murky. Nationals manager Jim Riggleman is already juggling Laynce Nix, Roger Bernadina and Rick Ankiel in his two outfield sports but with all three of them being left-handed it makes for a tough situation when they face a left-handed pitcher.
The Nationals would prefer if Bernadina could step up and become the team’s everyday center fielder and leadoff man. They’re giving him as much of an opportunity to do so as they can, but Bernadina’s hitting just .228 since being called up on May 7 and it’s come exclusively out of the leadoff spot. However, Ankiel hasn’t been much better offensively with a .211 average and .285 on-base percentage.
The Nationals have made no secret of the fact that they’re looking to upgrade at the center field position and one source said a few weeks ago that they’d inquired about Houston’s speedy center fielder Michael Bourn but it’d take a hefty return in order to pry him away from the Astros and the talks didn’t get very far.
– As the Nationals continue to try to navigate their way out of the prolonged losing streaks broken up by an occasional win trend they’ve found themselves in a focus of Riggleman’s has consistently been how clean a brand of baseball they’ve been playing. They’ve run the bases well, played superb defense and struggled to put together their hitting and pitching on the same days.
It’d be easy to consider the Nationals losing history as a franchise and roll your eyes at that mantra but for as much as their offense has come on recently, they still entered Tuesday hitting .222 with runners in scoring position and had just two guys in the starting lineup hitting over .260: Morse (.289) and Marquis .(304).
When you think about all of the opportunities the Nationals have squandered recently and how anemic their offense has been for much of the first two months of the season, it’s still somewhat remarkable that they’re only eight games under .500.
It’s that perspective that has allowed them to remain positive, even as things teeter on the brink here at the end of May.
“You can’t deny the fact that we’re playing good baseball,” said shortstop Ian Desmond. “Nobody can. We’re out there and we’re competing with the best teams with no offense, basically. I don’t mean to slight anybody that is doing well, but as a team and a unit we have no offense and we’re still out there competing with these teams.
“You look up and down other teams lineups and there’s four guys, five guys, six guys hitting above .270, .280 and there’s multiple guys above 20 RBI, 25 RBI. We don’t have that type of production yet. We’re going to, but we don’t yet and we’re still in the mix. Teams aren’t coming in here walking on us by any means.”
Along those lines, Nationals manager Jim Riggleman held a team meeting before Tuesday’s blowout victory to remind his team that they’re playing better than their record indicated.
“It was just a reinforcement meeting,” Marquis said. “Something that stays within the ballclub, just a basic meeting.”