Saturday night’s 7-6 win showed the Washington Nationals’ strong mettle in stressful situations. However, caution should come with the team’s inevitable high expectations.
Come October, the Washington Nationals will be NL East Champs if everything goes to plan.
This is the most well-equipped roster for playoff baseball in franchise history, even without a healthy or productive Bryce Harper. High expectations naturally come with the territory, but as last night’s slim 7-6 victory over the Atlanta Braves reminded us, caution is necessary.
Washington is 8.5 games ahead of the second-place Miami Marlins, and there’s no sign of slowing down. But regular season success means absolutely nothing when it comes to playoff baseball — 2012 drove that point home and Nationals fans will never forget it.
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Baseball is a slow, methodical, transparent, but ultimately random sport. No matter the power of a lineup, the dominance of a rotation, or the consistency of a bullpen, it can all fall apart on any given night. Even against the worst team in baseball by record in the Atlanta Braves.
Rookie Reynaldo Lopez’s third career start was his best thus far; seven strong innings and just one run allowed set the Nats up for a strong rebound victory after an 8-5 loss on Friday. The offense gave him seven runs to work with, and in exciting fashion (three triples). The two most important cogs in the machine were working smoothly, but the third — the bullpen — came loose.
Sammy Solis worked 2/3 of an inning and gave up a run on two hits and a walk. Yusmeiro Petit surrendered two hits and didn’t get an out, and set up a tough spot for Mark Melancon. The man with the lowest ERA in baseball the last two years allowed a single and double that scored three runs.
What was a 7-2 game entering the ninth was now 7-6. It happened so quickly, and swiftly erased all security brought by the offense’s impressive performance. This is a team with a perfect mix of veteran leadership and young energy, a team that has been through it all in the past three years.
How can such a collapse happen against the Atlanta Braves, of all teams?
Such is the nature of the random sport of baseball. However — following another sports principle — a win is all that matters. Sure, you’d like it to be less stressful and easier to control, but the team that can close out games in which six-run leads evaporate in minutes are the teams that can make it in the postseason.
The veteran Melancon secured the last two outs and stepped off the mound with yet another save. This roller-coaster of a contest somehow ended up in a Curly W.
Wins can be pulled out of games like these at a consistent rate with the right combination of players and staff. That can be the difference of a few games in the standings at the end of the regular season, or the first postseason series win in franchise history.
These Nationals, not even at full strength, demonstrate time and time again they’ve got the chops to set a new mark for the team. While nights like these show why caution should accompany the expectations, it’s clear that Washington has something special on its side this season.