Jul 23, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
The Mets decided to put everything they had into this week’s series at Nationals Park. They held back their top three starters specifically to pitch in D.C. Their manager openly admitted these games were more important than others. Then he took blame late Wednesday for not bringing in his closer in the bottom of the eighth in search of a 4-out save.
The Nationals, on the other hand, decided this series was no more important than any other. They lined up their rotation with the long-term in mind, not the short-term. They didn’t get overly excited when they won Monday night’s opener, didn’t get terribly down when they lost Tuesday night and kept the celebration to a mostly modest level Wednesday afternoon.
That’s because the Nats are the frontrunners in the NL East, and they are appropriately acting like it, while the Mets are the ones doing the chasing and ultimately looking desperate in the process.
“That’s all on me,” New York manager Terry Collins volunteered after Wednesday’s game, telling reporters he erred by not replacing setup man Bobby Parnell with closer Jeurys Familia during the decisive bottom of the eighth.
Really? Collins was mad at himself for not asking his closer to record a 4-out save on July 22? Talk about desperation.
The Mets are only 3 games back with 67 still to play. They’ll face the Nationals nine more times in 2015, including the final three games of the regular season, at Citi Field. Guess what, they’re still very much in the race, even if their actions suggest they put all their eggs in this week’s basket.
Give credit to the Nationals for not falling victim to that kind of desperate mindset. Say whatever you want about Matt Williams, but he has done a masterful job the last two seasons at getting his players not to look back and not to look ahead, focusing solely on the particular task at hand that day.
The Nats did that this week, and perhaps that philosophy helped them take 2 of 3 from the jittery Mets and ensure their lead in the division would not dwindle into dangerous territory.
“That’s big for us,” said closer Drew Storen, who struck out the side in the ninth Wednesday to earn his 29th save. “If we can pull two out of the series against those starters, it says a lot about our team.”
The Nationals, despite their flaws and spate of injuries, actually are a very good ballclub. Obviously they have elite talent at many positions, but they also have impressive depth around the diamond and the resiliency to overcome the kind of injuries that would spell doom for many teams.
Remember, these guys still have not fielded their entire projected starting lineup once this year. And they may not for awhile longer if it turns out Yunel Escobar suffered a significant injury to his left wrist.
Escobar went down in a heap after an awkward check-swing in his first at-bat Wednesday, clutching his left wrist. After an examination from head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz and some practice swings, Escobar said he was good enough to keep batting. But when he fouled off the next pitch and immediately threw his bat to the ground while walking straight down the dugout stairs, it wasn’t inappropriate to wonder if the Nationals just suffered yet another major blow.
Initial X-rays taken of Escobar’s hand and wrist came back negative, according to Williams, but the club had him get an MRI of the same area. Though there was no official word on the results of that test, the Nationals are at least concerned there could be some structural damage to the wrist, whether in the form of a torn ligament or a small facture.
Now, Escobar has shown a propensity to return quickly from what initially appeared to be serious injuries. So perhaps he’ll be back out there within a day or two. But if there’s doubt he can play again soon, the club may have no choice but to place Escobar on the DL and add somebody else to the roster.
Somebody like Anthony Rendon, who on Wednesday night went 3-for-3 in his fourth game with Class A Potomac and now is 7-for-10 with two walks while on rehab assignment. Yes, in a perfect world Rendon would get another day or two to get his timing down. But the Nationals don’t live in a perfect world. They’re already without Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Denard Span. And now they may be without Escobar for some period of time.
The path doesn’t get any easier. After facing Dodgers aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke over the weekend and the New York triumvirate of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard the last three days, the Nationals now head to Pittsburgh where another electric staff awaits. Over the next four days they’ll be seeing the Pirates’ three best starters: Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett and Gerrit Cole.
Then comes a series in Miami that is likely to feature ace Jose Fernandez, followed by a series in New York against none other than these same Mets.
At this point, you know the Nationals aren’t going to make too big a deal out of that series at Citi Field. The only question is: Will the Mets have learned to follow their counterparts’ lead in this regard, or will they once again put too much stock in a July series?
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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