Sunday could have been a very dismal day for a Washington Nationals team trying to hang on to playoff spot in the competitive National League wild-card race.
But a pair of veterans — starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez and first baseman Howie Kendrick — stepped up in a 7-0 win over the first-place Atlanta Braves on a day that manager Dave Martinez missed the last few innings after falling ill and being taken to a local hospital.
“He wasn’t feeling good,” said bench coach Chip Hale, who took over for Martinez in the sixth inning. “Just for precautionary reasons, they took him to the hospital to see what was going on. As the game went on, he started to not feel so great.”
Hale said he expects Martinez to be with the team when the Nationals begin a series Monday night at the first-place St. Louis Cardinals.
“Hopefully he is doing great,” Kendrick said. “I love Davey.”
Kendrick had three hits and drove in three runs while Sanchez gave up just three hits and no runs in seven innings, lowering his ERA to 3.86.
The Nationals (82-66) won just one of three against the Braves (93-58) in the weekend series and were outscored 15-1 in the first two games. Washington has a 1½-game lead over the Chicago Cubs for the top spot in the wild-card standings as the Cubs won 16-6 over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Washington also clinched an eighth straight winning season — something only the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals can also claim.
“We are still in a good spot,” Kendrick said of the playoff chase.
Washington center fielder Victor Robles had two hits, scored twice and battled the sun to make several fine catches.
Sanchez, who helped Atlanta win the division in 2018, used his change-up effectively against a power-hitting team and improved to 3-0 this season against the Braves before a crowd of 29,350.
“My changeup is my best pitch for me. It helps me keep those guys out of balance,” Sanchez said.
The 35-year-old from Venezuela improved to 8-11 in his career against the Braves.
“He is a big-game pitcher,” Hale said. “He is a leader in this clubhouse when he is not pitching. It is one we needed. He got us going. We know Atlanta is a good club. It was a big win for us.”
The Nationals’ chances of making the playoffs were 93.4% before Sunday’s game, according to ESPN. The Braves lead the National League East by 9½ games.
Getting another start at catcher, Yan Gomes had a two-run single as the Nationals took a 2-0 lead in the second. Washington added three more in the third, as Kendrick had a two-run single and Robles walked with the bases loaded to make it 5-0.
Kendrick hit a long solo homer to left in the fifth for a 6-0 lead and the Nationals added a run in the sixth on a double-play grounder hit by Adam Eaton. Kendrick upped his average to .336.
Braves starting pitcher Max Fried (16-6) gave up five runs in just 2 1/3 innings in his shortest outing since May 7.
The Washington lineup again was missing slugger Matt Adams, who hurt his shoulder Thursday on the road against the Minnesota Twins.
Martinez said before the game Adams has an AC sprain and is day to day, so Kendrick got the start at first base over Ryan Zimmerman.
Washington begins a three-game series Monday against the Cardinals, who will start right-hander Dakota Hudson (15-7, 3.38). The Nationals will counter with Stephen Strasburg (17-6, 3.49), who leads the National League in wins.
“Every game that we win right now is important for us,” Sanchez said.