How two home runs in Miami might have changed the Nationals’ season

How two home runs in Miami might have changed Nats’ season originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

With two big swings, an inning and a season spun back in the Nationals’ favor on Sunday.

A club that just about one month ago was dead last in the NL East received a pair of two-run home runs from Trea Turner and Josh Bell in a tie game in the sixth inning against the Miami Marlins.

Just like that a 1-1 game with Max Scherzer on the mound became a 5-1 lead and Washington left loanDepot Park with a crucial series split. After fighting their way back into the division race, the Nats couldn’t afford to lose three of four to the last place Marlins. Not with maybe the toughest stretch of their season upcoming to end June and begin July.

On a day when yet another starting pitcher — this time Erick Fedde — landed on the 10-day IL, Scherzer started on the mound for Washington and showcased his other-worldly talent. It wasn’t a game they could afford to give away. He conceded a run in the first inning but was close to perfect after that finishing with six innings pitched, five hits, one earned run and seven strikeouts.

But with Miami starter Sandy Alcantara matching him through five innings, Washington was on the edge. Then, the sixth inning happened.

Turner launched an opposite-field home run that scored both him and Kyle Schwarber to make it 3-1 Nationals. Juan Soto knocked an infield single on the very next at-bat. Josh Bell then stepped up to the plate with a chance to continue the rally and instead busted the game open.

Bell launched a 95 mile-per-hour sinker over the wall in left center — from 1-1 to 5-1 in just a few pitches and Washington’s bullpen hung on to that lead. After a disappointing blowout loss Friday (11-2) and narrow defeat Saturday (3-2), the Nats needed this one.

“There was a sound that reverberated out of that ballpark, through some landlines, up to the satellite, back to us in D.C. that just indicated that that ball was going a mile out of this yard to left center,” Nats’ broadcaster Bob Carpenter said of Bell’s homer on MASN.

Splitting the away series with the Marlins was crucial for the Washington’s season for a few reasons. The Nats’ next 17 games will be the biggest test the team has faced thus far in 2021.

They’ll take on the division-leading Mets in a single game on Monday in a makeup of one cancelled in April due to a COVID-19 outbreak to start the season. One of those three canceled games has already been played as part of a double header and the third is set for September.

After a chance to gain yet another game on New York, Washington will face the Tampa Bay Rays (47-32) and Los Angeles Dodgers (46-31) at home before travelling to California to face the San Diego Padres (46-33) and San Francisco Giants (50-26). Finally, they’ll return home for another three-game series vs. San Diego after the All-Star break. Those teams have an average winning percentage of .607 and sport the first, fourth, fifth and seventh-best records in 2021.

Washington couldn’t afford to waste a Scherzer start in Miami. Stephen Strasburg remains incapacitated with a neck strain that will sideline him for at least another week. Fedde was just placed on the 10-day IL with an oblique strain. Winning on Sunday brought the Nats to within four games of New York.

Keep an eye on the Mets’ schedule, too. New York lost to the fourth-place Philadelphia Phillies 4-2 on Sunday in a series split. Now, the Mets take on the third-place Atlanta Braves (37-40) and the rival New York Yankees (40-37) on the road and then the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers (45-33) at home over the next nine games.

“We got some ground to make up. We gotta catch the Mets. They’re in first place right now,” Turner said in a postgame interview. “So we gotta catch them. Every game counts, and these games, no matter where you’re playing or who you’re playing, they all count the same.”

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