Nationals Notebook: Spoiler Season never smelled so good

Washington Nationals' Lane Thomas hits an RBI double during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, Saturday, Aug. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)(AP/Aaron Doster)
This wasn’t supposed to happen.

The Washington Nationals, after trading Jeimer Candelario before the Aug. 1 deadline, were supposed to crumble after losing arguably their best glove and bat of 2023, especially in the face of NL Central contenders Milwaukee and Cincinnati.

But instead of wilting as they have in previous Augusts (9-18 last year, 7-20 in 2021), the Nats took five of six and finished the weekend with a sweep in Cincinnati. They enter this week with a season-high four game winning streak (hey, after last year, this is progress) while getting solid play from players who are a part of the eventual solution.

Twelve of the Nationals’ final 16 series are against playoff contenders: Let the spoiling season begin.

Digesting the Division: Atlanta (70-39) still owns the best record in the National League, but the NL East leaders after dropping consecutive games to the red-hot Chicago Cubs (six straight series wins) are now 10-10 since the All Star Break. Philadelphia (61-51) won consecutive series to pull into a tie with San Francisco for the Wild Card lead. But over the weekend, the Phillies lost Brandon Marsh to a knee injury that landed the center fielder on the 10-day Injured List. Miami (58-55) is losing altitude by the day as the Marlins are 1-5 in August and 5-16 since the midsummer hiatus.

The New York Mets (50-61) completed their fold of a hand with a pair of aces by trading Justin Verlander to Houston (I’m hoping for Astros-Rangers games pitting Verlander against Max Scherzer down the stretch). They also equaled last year’s loss total with almost two months remaining in the season. That gives the Nationals (49-63) some hope to find their way out of the cellar for the first time this late in the season since their World Series season.

Break up the Birds: On the weekend where the Camden Yards faithful honored the 1983 World Series winners, a sweep of the New York Mets puts the Orioles (70-42) three games ahead of Tampa Bay in the AL East and on pace to post 101 victories. This week, instead of nostalgia on the menu, Baltimore will be serving up possibilities with defending World Series champ Houston in town.

Last Week’s Heroes: Lane Thomas hit .360 with three home runs and 10 RBI while Joey Meneses homered twice and drove in five. Midweek call-up Jake Alu hit .357 with five RBI. The bullpen brought it big-time, with Kyle Finnegan tossing five scoreless innings over five games while notching one win and three saves. Jordan Weems (4.2 scoreless innings over five outings) posted a win in relief while Andres Machado (3.2 scoreless over four) tallied two victories. Mackenzie Gore (two runs allowed over six innings) recorded the best start of the week while Joan Adon (three runs over six frames) shined in a spot-start Saturday.

Last Week’s Humbled: Josiah Gray struggled in his shortest start of the season, allowing five runs over 3.2 innings. Luis Garcia went 0-9 at the plate before being sent down to AAA Rochester while Ildemaro Vargas hit .118 and Alex Call batted .125.

Game to Watch: Out of the four games this week that the Nationals will play in Philadelphia, it’s Tuesday’s tilt that catches my eye. Josiah Gray tries to bounce back from his worst outing of the year while the Phillies counter with Zack Wheeler (8-5, 3.71 ERA).

Game to Miss: Oakland comes to Washington for the second straight August as we’re treated to the last place A’s before they make their rather unclean getaway to Las Vegas (as with all construction projects, I’m taking the “over” as to when their new stadium will be ready). The A’s own the worst record in the majors and will likely have clinched a losing record by the time they get to D.C. Saturday they’ll start rookie Luis Medina (3-8, 5.47 ERA) against Trevor Williams. Enjoy the pool.

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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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