Mark Reynolds was in the Washington lineup Sunday at Nationals Park, batting fifth. When you go five-for-five the night before, with two home runs and 10 RBI, after blasting the winning walk-off home run the day before, you get to play again the next game.
After Reynolds’ historic performance, Nationals manager Dave Martinez joked he would have trouble sleeping Saturday night trying to find a place in the lineup for Reynolds Sunday. He did, giving third baseman Anthony Rendon a rest.
Sunday’s lineup had four of the eight position player starters from Opening Day, as Martinez continues to ponder in his sleep how to put a winning combination on the field for each game.
“We’ve had guys up and down here who helped us win a lot of ballgames, and to this point we’re here because of those guys,” Martinez said after Saturday night’s 18-4 win over the Miami Marlins.
Where they are, though, is in third place in the National League East, just one game over .500 and five games out of their traditional place on top of the division.
And, after three straight wins over the hapless Miami Marlins, they finished the homestand with an embarrassing 10-2 loss Sunday that ended with Reynolds yes, that same journeyman infielder Mark Reynolds pitching at the end (hey, he wasn’t bad; he got the out the Nationals needed to get out of the inning).
Reynolds on the mound underscored what Martinez said. Without contributions like those from Reynolds and Matt Adams, the emergence of rookie Juan Soto and other surprises, this team would be deeper in the hole as the All-Star Game break approaches.
But now they have to climb out and get past this point. And that is going to require more than spare parts and rookies. The Nationals need their core veteran players to play regularly and play well if they are going to be in the fight for a postseason berth come September.
They’re going to need Daniel Murphy in the lineup every day, with strong legs and his strong left-handed bat. They are going to need a healthy Matt Wieters to supplement their weak-hitting catching corps and in his final months as a Washington National, prove he was worth the $21 million Scott Boras conned the Lerners into paying for him nearly two years ago.
They’re going to need a healthy Stephen Strasburg, on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation and scheduled to make a rehab start Tuesday for Class A Potomac, to be ready to take the ball when the Nationals come back from the All-Star Game and face the team ahead of them in the standings, the second-place Atlanta Braves.
And they may need more. They may need general manager Mike Rizzo to pull off a trade for another starter.
What’s all that add up to? The Nationals need players to play.
This has been their chronic problem that has contributed to their postseason disappointments and early playoff exits players not playing. It hasn’t been the manager. Dusty Baker wasn’t the problem, and neither is Dave Martinez.
It’s the players in particular those players who are considered the core of this team. They need it this year, more than ever, to just get to the playoffs since it appears Washington has the strongest competition it has faced yet in the NL East in Philadelphia and Atlanta both of whom will likely be trying to do the same thing that Rizzo is tasked with, finding another starting pitcher. There aren’t many quality arms that appear to be available, and the Braves and Phillies both may have more to offer in those deals. But Washington, in the wake of the inconsistency of Gio Gonzalez and the collapse of Tanner Roark (3-11 record with 4 innings pitched, 10 hits, four earned runs, three walks, five strikeouts Sunday), desperately needs starting pitching help, or else their bullpen will wind up being driven to the mound in an ambulance.
Not every team the Nationals face is going to come bearing Derek Jeter gift bags like the Marlins did the 14-12 comeback gift after Miami had a 9-0 lead, followed by the 3-2 walk-off win and the 18-4 slugfest Saturday night and Reynolds in the lineup regularly isn’t going to get it done. It didn’t on Sunday, as Miami had 22 hits, compared to just four for Washington, and even left 17 runners on base.
The Nationals go on the road Monday to play the Pirates, followed by the Mets, but then face the Braves in Atlanta the weekend after the All-Star Game, followed by the National League Central first-place Milwaukee Brewers. Lineup consistency is what you’re going to need to climb back against those teams and All-Star performances.
Washington doesn’t have as many All-Stars, that is, as in the previous two years, when they had five in both 2016 and 2017. Sunday afternoon they announced that as of right now, three Nationals will be on the All-Star team when the game takes place at Nationals Park on July 17: Harper, Sean Doolittle and Max Scherzer, who could likely be the NL starter.
That’s all a third-place team one game over .500 gets. They’ll need more second-half All-Stars to save the season.
⦁ Thom Loverro’s weekly “Cigars Curveballs” is available Wednesdays on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.