Nationals Notebook: No playoffs, but can still play the spoiler

The Nationals may still be in contention, but at 15 games back in the NL East and 14-and-a-half back in the Wild Card race, they’ll largely be playing out the string over the final 33 games of the season.

That means they’ll have to take consolation in eliminating others from playoff contention, or at least making those teams’ respective paths to the playoffs a little more difficult.

Many thought they’d have that chance with a pair of late-season series against the New York Mets, but the club that led the division as recently as Aug. 5 has been in a tailspin that rivals the Nats’ own August decline.

So this past weekend’s series didn’t even have the spoiler element in the mix — another disappointment in a season filled with them. Looking forward, they do have series with NL East contenders Philadelphia and Atlanta while playing seven of their final 10 games of the season against Wild Card hopefuls Cincinnati and Boston.

Let the spoiling begin…

Digesting the Division: Atlanta (70-59) owns a four and half game lead in the NL East after taking two of three from NL West leader San Francisco before the Braves begin another potential playoff preview with a three game series at the Los Angeles Dodgers. Philadelphia (66-64) plays 23 of its next 26 games against clubs with losing records, setting itself up for a potential late-season surge. The Mets (63-67) have won two series this month, both against the Nationals (55-74), whose elimination number is 19 for the division and 18 for the Wild Card. Miami (55-76) needs to be told that, unlike the NFL, there are no fifth-place schedules.

O’s Woes: The Birds may have ended their losing streak two games shy of the record 21 set in 1988, but the team was officially eliminated from the AL East race on Tuesday and from the Wild Card race Saturday. At 40-89, they need to finish 23-10 to avoid another 100-loss campaign — which is highly unlikely. What is likely is they’ll win at least eight more games and avoid tying the franchise record of 115 losses in a season. Thank goodness for the Ravens.

Say Isn’t That? Max Scherzer struck out 10 in his start for the Dodgers and improves to 4-0 with an ERA of 1.55 in five starts with his new team. Trea Turner batted .320 this past week while scoring four runs atop the Dodgers lineup. Both will play big parts on the October stage while fans in Washington watch. It’s like seeing a former crush happily married. You’re pumped for them (you’d be a dishonorable gentleman otherwise), but wish they could have been that happy with you.

Last Week’s Heroes: Alcides Escobar and Riley Adams each hit .400 while Josh Bell batted .381 with 3 homers and 7 RBI. And even Juan Soto, despite hitting .190, walked five times and scored five runs while notching two homers and four RBIs. Kyle McGowin recorded 3.2 scoreless innings over four appearances while Paolo Espino struck out seven over five innings. Last Tuesday Erick Fedde notched a career-high 10 strikeouts while allowing one run over 6.1 innings to win his second straight start.

Last Week’s Humbled: In his start Sunday, Fedde allowed five runs over 5.1 innings to come back to earth, while Patrick Corbin’s season of discontent continues with another rough outing, this time allowing six runs over three innings. Ryne Harper didn’t fare much better (two runs allowed over 1.1 innings). Carter Kieboom batted .095. Lane Thomas hit .130 atop the lineup while Victor Robles batted .111. Perhaps there’s something going on in centerfield?

Game to Watch: Monday the Nats get to play spoiler for real as they begin a series with Philadelphia. And Josiah Gray (bedeviled by bad bullpens in his first month with the team) squares off against Zack Wheeler (10-9 with a 2.90 ERA this year). If they’re going to play spoiler…

Game to Miss: While the Nats meet the Mets twice Saturday in day-night doubleheader fashion, Maryland football kicks off its season by hosting West Virginia. The two schools used to meet annually (34 regular season showdowns plus a bowl meeting in a 36-year span) but they haven’t played since 2015. It’s okay to miss two of the Nats & Mets meetings when they’ll play three other times over the holiday weekend.

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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