Recent history - in other words, history that occurred within the previous 18 hours - suggested the Nationals had the Mets right where they wanted them late this afternoon.
Yes, the Nats trailed the entire way, by as many as six runs in the sixth inning. But given what happened Tuesday night on South Capitol Street, that hardly felt like an insurmountable deficit.
Thing is, seven-run rallies really don’t happen all that often. Shoot, Tuesday’s epic comeback in the bottom of the ninth was a once-in-a-lifetime event. So the odds legitimately were stacked against the Nationals today. And the fact they didn’t come all the way back to win shouldn’t be viewed as anything other than the normal result for this or any other ballclub.
Today’s 8-4 loss to the Mets was disheartening for any number of reasons. Needing to carry some momentum over from the previous night’s heroics, the Nationals instead slogged through another uninspired performance and as a result dropped not just this series (2-1) but the entire season series (12-7) to New York.
“They beat us pretty well, but that’s baseball,” Trea Turner said. “Each year’s different. Sometimes you play well against a team based on whatever it is: matchups or bullpens or left-handed/right-hander lineups, whatever it may be. Right now, it seems like they had our number.”
They also dropped a half-game in the standings to the Braves, who will welcome the Nationals to town Thursday for a four-game series holding a seven-game lead in the National League East. Any fewer than three wins from the Nats at SunTrust Park, and any hopes of a division title might well be vanquished.
“I think we’re making a mistake if we start saying: ‘We have to win X out of X of these games to put ourselves in position,’” Sean Doolittle said. “We’ve just got to go take it one game at a time. I know it sounds really cliché, but they’re too good for us to take a big picture approach. We’ve got to break it down and keep playing good baseball.”
Today’s game wasn’t won or lost in the late innings, but rather much earlier, with the Mets becoming the first team to take down Aníbal Sánchez in a long time and the Nationals unable to cash in against an opposing starter they’ve traditionally owned.
The Nationals have fared exceptionally well against Zack Wheeler over the years: Thirteen members of their current roster entered the day with at least eight career plate appearances against him, and eight of those guys sported batting averages of .296 or better.
So it was little surprise when they put the pressure on Wheeler from the get-go, with nine batters reaching base in the first four innings. It was surprising, however, that only one of those nine runners crossed the plate: Gerardo Parra, on Turner’s two-out RBI single in the second.
“We had good at-bats,” manager Davey Martinez said. “We hit the ball pretty hard. Just couldn’t get that one timely hit.”
Sánchez’s afternoon got off to a better start, with a couple of zeroes posted in his first two innings. But the veteran right-hander can’t afford to get away with too much up in the zone, and that’s exactly where he was living today.
The end result: three home runs from the Mets off Sánchez. Juan Lagares took him deep to center in the third, Robinson Canó went the other way in the fourth and then Pete Alonso launched his 45th homer of the season to give New York a 4-1 lead in the fifth.
Hoping to get one more inning from Sánchez, the Nationals watched as he failed to retire any of the three batters he faced to open the sixth. By the time the inning ending, with Hunter Strickland on the mound, the Mets had extended the lead to 7-1.
It was the most runs Sánchez has allowed all season. And it left him on the hook for his first loss since May 10.
“When you’ve got that kind of lineup that you face, you’ve got to execute the pitches and make it happen,” Sanchez said. “Today, the ball was a little bit high and they took advantage of that. A lot of first pitch (hits) and they put it in play.”