How big a hit did the Nationals’ playoff hopes take yesterday with their loss to the Phillies coupled with the Reds and Pirates both winning?
Their odds of reaching the postseason were cut from 5.5 percent entering yesterday’s action to 1.5 percent as of this morning, per BaseballProspectus.com.
It’s too bad that the Nats are in this position in the first place, where one day in mid-September can be such a momentum-crusher. They’ve played so well over the last 4-5 weeks that it’s weird walking into the clubhouse after a game and seeing everyone so down after a seven-game winning streak finally came to an end.
But again, that’s the position the Nats put themselves in by struggling so mightily for the season’s first four months.
“Working so hard, we’re doing everything, we’ve gone on a great streak, to see this one loss feels like a big blow to the stomach,” said Gio Gonzalez, who started strong last night but allowed four Phillies runs in the fifth inning and got the loss. “We’re not counting ourselves out. We still have a chance. It was one run that changed this whole game.
“We’re going to keep moving forward. As a starting pitcher, it is a tough pill to swallow because you know these guys put their hearts out there for you. You turn the page and try to get the next team.”
Gonzalez had thrown 13 straight scoreless innings entering the fifth inning last night. But that one frame loomed large. The Nationals’ offense has been tremendous over the last month. But their 2-for-16 line with runners in scoring position last night killed them.
When you’re as far back in the playoff race as the Nats were in recent weeks, your margin of error is next to nothing. You can pitch well and put up 10 runs a game pretty much every night, but the one night that you don’t can wind up costing you.
Ian Desmond, for instance, was left kicking himself after the game for a third-inning baserunning miscue, where he got caught trying to head to third on a Bryce Harper grounder to short. Jayson Werth was already on third at the time, and Werth correctly didn’t break for home on the play. Desmond took off from second, however, and was tagged out for the second out of the inning, helping to end a scoring chance.
“I’ve made a lot of errors in the big leagues, but that was probably the worst one,” Desmond said. “That was a mental error, I wasn’t paying attention to the signs. The game will get you.”
Despite the loss, the Nats remain optimistic. Sitting 5 1/2 games back of the Reds with 14 to go is clearly not ideal, but until they’re mathematically eliminated, they’ll stay hopeful, believing they’ve got a shot to do the remarkable.
“Why not? We’ve come this far,” Denard Span said. “Nobody expected us to be where we are now two weeks ago. So we just gotta keep battling. We’re playing good baseball. We can’t get too down on ourselves. We gotta regroup and be ready to come back tomorrow and get a win and get back on the right track.”
“It’s not over yet,” Gonzalez said. “No one has told us this game is done.”
“We’re playing with house money,” Desmond added. “Everyone kind of wrote us off, and we’re fighting our way back in. Just keep on playing and what will be will be. ... We need to win a lot of games but at the same time, we need Cincinnati to lose a lot of games, or whoever it may be. We need them to lose a lot of games. We put ourselves in a hole, and now it’s just about playing for pride and see how it ends up.”
Shameless plug: I’ll be making an appearance on the “Nats Xtra” pregame show on MASN a little after 1 p.m. today, and will be airing a TV version of the story that I shared a couple months ago here on the blog, of Kent and Richard Wilson, and how they used their love of baseball and the Nationals to stay strong as Richard battled cancer.
I realize there is something else that’s somewhat important to many D.C. area sports fans that airs at 1 p.m. today, but if you get a few minutes to catch the piece, do so.