This was not supposed to happen. The Washington Nationals were supposed to sweep the New York Mets and roll on into September with the steam it takes to get that final NL Playoff spot. No one gave that memo to the Mets, who have taken two straight from Washington and pushed the Nats’ playoff hopes to the brink.
Tonight in front of a crowd in excess of 35,000 at Nationals Park and a national audience on ESPN, Washington will be doing all they to avoid a sweep. The Nationals have blown so many chances this weekend to gain ground in their quest to catch the Cincinnati Reds for the final NL Wild Card spot.
They are now 7.5 games behind the Reds with just 28 games left in this strange 2013 season. After winning eight of nine, the Nationals have now dropped two consecutive games. There is no reason why a team as talented as the Nationals would drop a 3-2 game on Friday night and then be flat out embarrassed on Saturday night 11-3 at home to a young and less talented Mets team.
Tonight, the Mets will send Jon Niese, who is 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA in four starts since returning from a partially torn left rotator cuff on Aug. 11. The Nationals will counter with Ross Ohlendorf, at 3-0 with a 2.49 ERA, as a fill-in pitcher who hopes to find a spot in the teams 2014 rotation.
Ohlendorf had one of his best start of the season against the Mets on July 26. He limited them to one run in seven innings with a season-high eight strikeouts, but left without a decision as Washington got a 2-1 walkoff victory.
You can bet that Nationals manager Davey Johnson will surely keep an eye on his right-hander after Ohlendorf hit a wall in his two starts back from shoulder inflammation. Against the Cubs, Ohlendorf allowed three of his four runs in a five-inning outing. Then this week on Tuesday, he held the Miami Marlins to two hits over five scoreless innings before Christian Yelich hit a homered off him to lead off the sixth.
Johnson has to win tonight, so all bullpen hands will be on deck with the exception of Tanner Roark, who will not be able to pitch after coming into Saturday night’s game to bail out Dan Haren.
If the Nationals want to play meaningful baseball in September, they must win tonight’s game against the Mets. They need to right the ship and understand that they are a far better team than the Mets, and losing is not an option.