Nationals Notebook: Wild race for the Wild Card

Washington Nationals' pitcher DJ Herz (74) throws during the third inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park, Saturday, June 15, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)(AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Don’t look now, but the Washington Nationals are somehow on the fringe of playoff contention almost halfway through the season. Series wins over Detroit and Miami place the club into a tie with San Diego for the third Wild Card in the National League.

Now before you bemoan the expanded postseason (and I’m with you there), the Nats are one-half game behind St. Louis for the second Wild Card (or No. 5 seed). And they have plenty of company in a motley crew of nine teams separated by two games chasing two playoff spots.

This crew includes everyone from last year’s National League champ Arizona to underachievers like San Diego and Cincinnati, from overachievers St. Louis and San Francisco to the dumpster-fire New York Mets.

At the very least you get to brace yourself for relevant games through Independence Day, and while this team might not eventually make the playoffs they definitely have the feel of a team that’s going to affect the Wild Card race.

“It’s a fun group, it’s a good dynamic in the clubhouse,” General Manager Mike Rizzo told Chris Russo on the MLB Network’s “High Heat” this past Friday. “The veteran guys are taking some leadership role and having some fun with the young kids. And the young kids are playing with their hair on fire.”

Can they make a run? And will they be making moves at next month’s Trading Deadline?

“We’ll take it week by week and see where we’re at,” Rizzo said. “We could do a hybrid of buying and selling at the deadline, filling some holes for us. Everything we do though at the trade deadline will facilitate us not only for this year but also for the future and I think that’s the way we’re looking at it.”

In a world where 107 losses happened only two years ago, the fact that this team is at least using the “buy” word for the first time since 2019 is encouraging.

Do yourself a favor and buy into the fun of the summer of 2024.

Digesting the Division: Philadelphia (47-24) lost two of three over the weekend to the Orioles, including a Sunday blowout where the usually solid Zack Wheeler allowed four homers. Atlanta (38-31) began their week by dropping two of three at Camden Yards before recovering against Tampa Bay. Washington (35-36) has won three straight series for the first time all season.

The New York Mets (32-37) celebrated some revisionist history this past week when a few people noticed the anniversary of “June 14, 1987.” Remember the “Seinfeld” episode when Keith Hernandez was accused of spitting on Kramer and Newman?

Unfortunately, tells us the Mets DID NOT face Philadelphia that day, but won 7-3 in Pittsburgh as Hernandez didn’t commit an error but in fact hit a home run.

Of course, discussing “Seinfeld” is much more entertaining that talking about the 2024 Mets. Miami (23-48) is in last place, partially because unlike last year (when they went 11-2 vs. D.C.) they’re 0-6 against the Nats in 2024.

Break up the Birds: The Orioles (47-24) after playing 14 straight games against AL East foes (and going 10-4 in the process), battled the top two teams in the NL East and took four of six games against Atlanta and Philadelphia. Get ready for things to ratchet up a little bit this week with three games in the Bronx against the New York Yankees.

Diamonds Direct Diamond King: Rookie DJ Herz struck out 13 over six scoreless innings Saturday in the Nats’ win over Miami. And even though he wears No. 74 and doesn’t even have a face in his profile, the left-hander is putting together a pretty impressive audition tape (3.77 ERA over 14.1 innings in his first three career starts) for 2025 — and with each successive appearance, he’s giving reasons to not be sent back down when Josiah Gray and Trevor Williams return from the injured list.

Last Week’s Heroes: Fellow rookie Mitchell Parker allowed one run over 10.2 innings in his two starts, while Hunter Harvey pitched 3.2 scoreless innings of relief over three outings. C.J. Abrams hit .391 while scoring five runs and driving in five.

Lane Thomas batted .364, with three homers and seven RBI while getting ejected for politely begging to differ about the strike zone in Detroit. Joey Meneses went .421 at the plate with six RBI.

Last Week’s Humbled: Eddie Rosario hit .133, while Nick Senzel batted .105. Derek Law allowed four runs over 4.1 innings of relief, while Robert Garcia allowed three runs over 1.1 innings.

Game to Watch: With apologies to MacKenzie Gore and Mitchell Parker, the flavor of the month is DJ Herz. How does he follow up his 13 strikeout-appearance? And Friday the left-hander starts against Colorado at Coors Field. How does the rookie fare in his first outing in that ballpark at that altitude? Win or lose, I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next.

Game to Miss: While one story is beginning, another is nearing its end. Patrick Corbin broke into the Major Leagues during the 2012 season with Arizona. Wednesday the 34-year old starts against the Diamondbacks.

The left-hander’s final start for this team is likely coming sooner rather than later, and I’d rather remember the 2019 Corbin that won 14 games while posting the victory in Game Seven of the World Series than watch the one that’s 28-64 with a 5.65 ERA since.

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Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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