Nationals Notebook: 2 disastrous 9th innings keep progress in check

Washington Nationals designated hitter Joey Meneses hits an RBI-double during the third inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park, Monday, May 15, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington Nationals' Joey Meneses rounds third after hitting a home run against the Minnesota Twins during the seventh inning of a baseball game Friday, April 21, 2023, in Minneapolis. The Nationals won 3-2. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)(AP/Craig Lassig)
There’s a fine line between good and great in Major League Baseball.

There’s also a fine line between contenders and pretenders, as well as chasing what might be a meaningless milestone but a definite marker for improvement.

The Washington Nationals had opportunities to post a series win and a sweep this past week, but a ninth-inning meltdown on Thursday cost them in an 8-6 loss to San Diego. On Sunday, a late-inning fade resulted in a walk-off 3-2 win for Kansas City.

When chasing the elusive winning month (Nats haven’t posted one since June 2021), every game makes a difference. Instead of being 13-13 needing to take two of three games from the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers for a non-sub-.500 May, they could have been in prime position to do so.

“You just gotta keep going. Keep grinding it out. I mean, we trust each other, we trust everybody’s ability to do their job,” outfielder Alex Call said after Thursday’s loss to the Padres. “We’re all about that. We have confidence in every guy in every position in every spot, so I think we just keep going.”

Digesting the Division: Atlanta (32-21) owns the NL East lead on Memorial Day, one of the holiday benchmarks of the season. It’s thanks to a deep lineup that includes players like Austin Riley, who hit three homers last week and has 28 RBI for the year.

Miami (28-26) is in second place thanks, in part, to the bat of Jorge Soler (12 of his 17 homers have come in May), while the New York Mets (27-27) find themselves at .500 after dropping four of six to the last-place Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies.

Philadelphia (25-28) just split a four-game series with the Braves, but might now be without RBI leader Alec Bohm (37 for the season) and his bad hamstring for a while. The Nats (23-30) may be improving, but they’re still in last.

Break up the birds: Baltimore (34-19) lost two of three to the AL West-leading Texas Rangers over the weekend. Despite that, they’ve had success with a lineup that delivers more quality than quantity. The O’s rank 15th in batting, but are seventh in runs scored. While the pitching won’t remind anyone of the four 20-game winners of 1971, the 4.10 ERA is at least in the top half of the majors. After several series against contenders, things lighten up with games against Cleveland and San Francisco this week, while the Birds won’t play a top-flight team until their June 20 trip to division-leading Tampa Bay.

Last week’s heroes: Corey Dickerson hit .417 with five RBI while Joey Meneses also drove in five to take the team lead at 28 RBI. Luis Garcia batted .370 with five runs scored and three driven in. MacKenzie Gore struck out 16 over 11.2 innings over his two starts while Mason Thompson tossed four scoreless innings over three appearances.

Last week’s humbled: Hunter Harvey posted an ERA of 8.10 after allowing a three-run homer in the series finale to San Diego, while Andrés Machado (20.25 ERA) and Erasmo Ramirez (54.00) had rough outings as well. Even though Patrick Corbin posted a win, the lefthander allowed six runs over 6.1 innings in his start. Alex Call batted .182 while Keibert Ruiz hit .176.

Game to watch: On Friday, the Nats return home for a series with Philadelphia. Josiah Gray is coming off a May where he posted a 2.89 ERA while going 2-1. Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler is coming off a 12-strikeout performance while tossing eight scoreless innings against Atlanta. Let’s see how Gray fares against a division foe.

Game to miss: On Tuesday night, the Nats have a 10:10 p.m. start with the Los Angeles Dodgers as rookie Jake Irvin has tossed five innings just once in his five major league starts. The Dodgers counter with Tony Gonsolin (1.82 ERA). While the Nats get their K’s, I’m going to be getting my Z’s.

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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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