They’ve won seven of their last nine, but fans are fuming over the two games they lost in New York last weekend.
They’ve seen the three relievers acquired at the July 31 trade deadline post a 1.46 ERA in 15 combined appearances, but fans are insisting Sean Doolittle’s arm is about to fall off.
They’ve seen Anthony Rendon put together a brilliant MVP-caliber season, but fans can’t wait .3 seconds before the third baseman’s latest blast clears the fence before agonizing over the fact he’s six weeks away from becoming a free agent.
And they’ve seen their team pull off a 22-game turnaround since May, from 19-31 to 65-55, but fans are despondent the Nationals haven’t gained any ground on the Braves in several weeks.
It’s a terrible time to be Nats fan, it appears. All anyone seems to want to do right now is complain.
The bullpen hasn’t been fixed enough. Doolittle has been overused and should be shut down. Scherzer’s pending return from the injured list is bound to end in disaster. They can’t beat good teams. Ryan Zimmerman shouldn’t even bother trying to come back from his latest bout of plantar fasciitis, because his presence on the active roster can only hurt their chances. Oh, and Rendon is guaranteed to bolt town the first chance he gets this fall because the front office won’t pay him what he’s worth.
It’s as if folks don’t realize the Nationals have played .657 ball over a stretch of nearly three months. Yes, .657 ball over nearly half a season. That’s a 106-win pace over the full 162 games. They have the third-best record in the majors since May 24, trailing only the Dodgers and Yankees.
Then there’s this fact: The Nationals have now either been ahead or tied in the seventh inning or later in 46 of their last 50 games. Yes, 46 of 50. They have been in position to win 92 percent of their games over the last two months. Ninety-two percent.
Which is not in any way to suggest this team is without flaws. Of course it has flaws. The bullpen is better but still no sure thing. Scherzer can’t definitively say he’s all the way back until he actually starts pitching like his old self in real games. Some of their prominent regulars remain too streaky at the plate.
But how many NL teams right now can honestly say they aren’t flawed? The Braves bullpen is just as much a concern as the Nationals bullpen is. Same for the Phillies, Mets and Cubs relief corps. The Cardinals have scored the third-fewest runs in the league. The Brewers have the fourth-worst rotation in the league.
Here’s what really matters: The Nationals were 12 games under .500 in late May but have now held one of the National League’s two wild card berths since early July. They’re 10 games over .500 for the first time all season, and they are pretty much assured of playing meaningful baseball the rest of the way.
They’re in a pennant race, and this promises to be the first legitimate pennant race they’ve ever been in. Not the run-away-with-the-division races of 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017. Not the never-get-close-enough second-place finishes of 2013, 2015 and 2018.
No, the final six weeks of this season promise to offer a roller coaster ride of emotions the likes of which we’ve never seen around these parts. Every game matters, but especially the 15 remaining games against the Braves (seven), Mets (three) and Phillies (five) in September. There also are nine remaining games with fellow NL wild card contenders: the Brewers, Cubs and Cardinals. Plus six games with American League Central contenders: the Twins and Indians.
This is going to be fun. And it should be viewed as fun by everyone.
Stop obsessing over Doolittle’s workload and enjoy watching this bullpen come together at crunch time. Stop agonizing over where Rendon will play in 2020 and appreciate how well he’s playing in 2019. Stop assuming they’re going to lose the wild card game or the subsequent National League Division Series against the Dodgers and soak in the nightly drama that will play out before it ever gets to that.
In short, stop being so negative and just enjoy this remarkable season the Nationals are putting together. Because that’s what the guys who actually wear the uniforms for a living are doing, starting with Davey Martinez, the manager so many love to disparage.
“Having him and his coaching staff really kind of keep us calm, keep us in the moment, not worrying about the future or the past ... was huge,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said after Wednesday’s 17-7 win. “Davey and his staff deserve a lot of credit. The mentality in this game can go real quick. To have that positivity, to have that as your leader in the clubhouse, is great.”
The Nationals are having fun right now. Nationals fans should take a cue from the team they love and do the same.