AP NEWS

Nationals begin homestand looking to right ship, but drop opener

May 15, 2019

Dave Martinez joked he was developing a fear of flying. Adam Eaton said it felt like “we played four games on the plane.”

The Washington Nationals returned from a bumpy 10-game road trip that included stops in three different time zones, a seven-hour delay on the runway waiting to fly from Philadelphia to Milwaukee, and only three wins to show for it.

But for all the statistics about Washington’s futility that have been bandied about in 2019, one flies under the radar: The Nationals entered the week with a worse record at home (7-11) than on the road (9-13).

At the season’s one-quarter mark, this week’s six-game homestand against the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs followed by another four games at the Mets presents an opportunity for the Nationals to get on the right path while there’s still time.

But they could not get that momentum started Tuesday, instead falling to the Mets 6-2 in the series opener.

The Nationals fell behind right away when they failed to land a double play that would have closed out the top of the first. With new life in the inning, the Mets loaded the bases and Wilson Ramos belted a grand slam.

With the offense starting off in a 4-0 hole, the Nationals remained not only scoreless, but hitless against Mets starter Noah Syndergaard until the sixth inning. It was 5-0 New York when Wilmer Difo finally broke through with a single; two outs later, Victor Robles homered for the seventh time this year and the third time against Syndergaard to put Washington on the board.

It was in vain, however, and the Nationals dropped their first chance to score a win against their divisional foes. Syndergaard finished with four hits and six strikeouts in eight innings, besting Nationals starter Jeremy Hellickson, and Washington fell to 16-25.

A more optimistic faction of Nationals fans is pointing to the 2018 Los Angeles Dodgers for comfort. The Dodgers started the season 16-26 and looked awfully similar to the 2019 Nationals a talented roster producing disappointing results, calls for the manager to be fired. Then Los Angeles righted the ship the rest of the way, driving it all the way to a World Series appearance.

Martinez referred to another example from his personal experience his seven years as the bench coach of the Tampa Bay Rays.

″(When) I was with Tampa for a lot of times, we went to the playoffs and we started off really slow,” he said. “The Dodgers I know started off slow. For me, with our guys, I tell them we’ve got to take care of ourselves and play the game better, consistently.”

The importance of this stretch is heightened by the common NL East opponent; the Nationals face the third-place Mets seven times in a 10-game period and could eclipse them in the standings with a good showing. Martinez felt it was “kind of weird” the schedule worked out that way, but paid no mind to the quirk.

“It works two ways,” Martinez said. “You get a team like that and all of a sudden, you come in and they’re on a hot streak and you’ve got to play them that many times. Sometimes they’re not. For me it’s just (about) winning today.”

In the case of the Mets, it’s “sometimes they’re not.” Before beating the lowly Marlins twice over the weekend, New York had lost five of six, giving the Nationals all the more urgency to take advantage of the games in front of them.

Eaton said it was time for him and his teammates to “hopefully try to reboot.”

“Being able to sleep in your own bed, see your own family coming to the ballpark a little more comfortable is always a good thing,” the outfielder said. “Hopefully we can use that to our advantage and have a really good homestand. I think playing better baseball is gonna allow us to do that.”