With their No. 3 hitter on his way to the North Side of Chicago, the Nationals face the daunting proposition of making up for lost production from a lineup that doesn’t have a lot of proven producers to begin with.
Fortunately, they have a guy who has already proven he can deliver at the plate at the trade deadline.
Joey Meneses, who famously homered in his major league debut hours after the Nats traded Juan Soto one year ago, did it again tonight. The 31-year-old designated hitter opened the bottom of the second with a blast to left field, his sixth homer in 19 games. Then he delivered a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the seventh that gave the Nationals the 5-3 lead over the Brewers they would hold onto the rest of the night.
Only 30 minutes after they dealt Jeimer Candelario to the Cubs for two prospects, the Nats took the field with a depleted lineup, hoping someone else could step up and produce some runs for them tonight and over the season’s final two months.
They wound up with two someones coming through: Lane Thomas, who drove in a pair of runs, and Meneses, who drove in the other three in a familiar position.
"There was speculation. You heard the rumors of a possible trade. So it didn't necessarily catch me off guard. Most of us were kind of waiting for it," Meneses said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "But he was a great teammate. We're going to miss him. Great person. Great ballplayer. And all I can say is I wish him all the best with his career, wherever he's at the rest of this year."
Meneses got things started with a second-inning homer off Corbin Burnes, his sixth in his last 19 games. The Nationals did little else against Burnes, though, despite several opportunities. They stranded two runners in the third on back-to-back strikeouts by Thomas and Keibert Ruiz (suddenly the team’s new No. 3 hitter). They stranded two runners in scoring position in the fourth on a groundout by Luis García and back-to-back strikeouts by Ildemaro Vargas (suddenly the starting third baseman) and Corey Dickerson.
They did finally scratch out a second run in the bottom of the fifth, thanks again to the speed of their young leadoff man. CJ Abrams, who swiped three bases in Sunday’s loss to the Mets, walked and stole second off Burnes, his 22nd consecutive successful steal attempt. That put him in position to score on Thomas’ subsequent RBI single to left-center, with Thomas ultimately winding up on third base thanks to some Milwaukee defensive shenanigans.
"I was worried about him leaving the clubhouse," manager Davey Martinez said of the Candelario trade, which was announced to the team at 6:30 p.m. "But the boys came out and they played well. Good for them."
The Nationals tried to make those two runs hold up, but that was a tall task. Jake Irvin did well in reaching the sixth inning for the third straight start, through the rookie was unable to complete that final frame this time and suffered for it.
Irvin made it to the sixth having allowed one run (via back-to-back doubles by Christian Yelich and William Contreras in the third). He faltered at the end of his outing, though, letting three straight batters reach with one out, Andruw Monasterio’s RBI single tying the game and bringing Martinez from the dugout to signal to his bullpen.
"I just attacked the zone," Irvin said of his outing. "I didn't feel fantastic, and sometimes that happens. But I competed, threw balls in the zone and let my defense go to work. Those guys played fantastic tonight."
That defense was on display after Irvin departed. Jose A. Ferrer took over on the mound, and the rookie lefty got out the sixth on one pitch, inducing a double play. He did, however, surrender the tying run in the seventh on Joey Wiemer’s homer.
No problem, because Thomas and Meneses were ready to return the favor in the bottom of the inning. Thomas’ second straight RBI single tied the game again. And two batters later, with two on, two out and an 0-2 count on him, Meneses got enough muscle on a broken-bat looper to get the ball into shallow center field for the go-ahead hit.
"There was a curveball, and I didn't recognize it well," Meneses said. "But I was thinking he was going to repeat it. And then next time he threw it, I was able to connect it and put it out there and get a base hit out of it."
Mason Thompson then pitched a quick eighth, and Kyle Finnegan (whose name remains in trade rumors but was not held out tonight like Candelario was) pitched the ninth for his 15th save.
The Nationals have less than 24 hours to decide if they intend to give Finnegan more chances to close games for them the rest of this season and beyond.
"I mean, it is what it is. I was focused on getting those last three outs of the game today," the reliever said. "I was preparing for it, it came and I was ready. This time of year is always crazy, but we're professionals, and we can do our best to block out the noise and focus on doing our job."