- - Sunday, June 23, 2019


We have now entered the competitive phase of the Washington Nationals 2019 baseball season.

How do I know that? They said goodbye to $8 million Sunday morning that was keeping them from competing.

It’s serious now. Everyone in that clubhouse knows that when the team sent reliever Trevor Rosenthal packing after he walked all three batters he faced Saturday night as Washington gave up an 8-4 lead in a 13-9 loss to the Atlanta Braves — a blown opportunity.

There is little room for such failures anymore, no time left to wait for a guy like Rosenthal, the former St. Louis Cardinals ace reliever who sat out all of 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery. You can’t carry a relief pitcher you are afraid to use, and Rosenthal, with a 22.74 ERA in 12 appearance, had become frightening — so much so that the team was willing to eat the $7 million he is owed, plus pay a $1 million buyout for an option for next season.

The 10 straight games at Nationals Park (there were supposed to be 11, but one was lost in a rainout during the Phillies series) were supposed to answer some questions about a Nationals team that came into the homestand having won 12 of 17 to climb back to a 31-36 record.

After being 19-31 following a sweep by the New York Mets in May, at least now people could pose questions about the Nationals ability to compete in the National League East come August and September and catch the Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves without laughing.

So what about those questions? Did they get answered?

Not really.

Washington ends the critical homestand with six wins and four losses, finishing up Sunday with a 4-3 loss to the NL East division-leading Braves before a crowd of 34,256 on a glorious, sunny afternoon.

After splitting four games with the Arizona Diamondbacks, they faced the two teams ahead of them in the division, Philadelphia and Atlanta — so coming away with six wins counts for something.

But the last 10 could have been more. This homestand could have been season-changing. The Nationals had a chance to be dominant.

They weren’t. It wasn’t.

Make no mistake, this team is competitive. Perhaps, with 85 games remaining, competitive is enough in what we have always been told is the marathon of a baseball season.

It felt like September playoff baseball Friday night when the Nationals held off the Braves for a 4-3 win with three shutout relief innings from their beleaguered bullpen — Javy Guerra, Tony Sipp, Rosenthal and Wander Suero. It felt like a bigger moment than a win in June, in large part because of Rosenthal, the veteran reliever signed as a free agent this winter who had been so disastrous this year that he had become unusable. But Rosenthal managed to protect the lead Friday night in his brief appearance, a sign that perhaps he was salvageable, as perhaps this season may be.

Then, Saturday night came, and Sunday morning the team said Rosenthal would no longer appear in a Nationals uniform.

A few hours later, National starter Austin Voth, just off the plane from Class AAA Fresno, where he had an unimpressive 3-5 record and a 4.40 ERA, took the mound for a Nationals team in desperate need of a fifth starter.

The Braves started their best, Mike Soroka, with his 8-1 record and 2.12 ERA.

Before you know it, Soroka is out of the game in the second inning after being hit by a pitch from Voth, who proceeds to hold the hot Braves lineup in check, allowing just two runs on two solo home runs, over six innings pitched.

It was an opportunity, a chance to beat your rival the day they sent their best pitcher to the mound, with your fifth starter who just arrived in Washington. But the Nationals offense failed to capitalize on several scoring chances, leaving seven runners on base, and wound up losing 4-3 in 10 innings.

They were competitive. They were competitive for the entire homestand.

“We played two pretty good teams,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “When all is said and done, we came out 6 and 4.”

But it could have been more. And the time may soon come when they may have to be more than competitive if they have any hope of winning in September.

Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

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