Though they’re still fighting for home field advantage in next week’s division series, the Nationals understand they’re in a strange part of their season.
Sure, playoff seeding is plenty important. These last regular season games count, et cetera et cetera. But Washington already clinched the NL East title, and already knows its playoff opponent is going to be the Los Angeles Dodgers. So it’s not a surprise that players are willing to admit how difficult it can be to keep their foot on the gas pedal these days.
“Once you win the division, there’s that exhale, that sigh of relief,” said Jayson Werth after Friday night’s 7-4 loss to the Miami Marlins.”..You kind of let off the throttle a little bit.”
And when a team takes that approach, health becomes the top priority. It’s a mindset that was on full display Friday night when Werth was removed from the game in the seventh inning as a precaution due to back and side tightness.
“We can't afford to lose anybody else,” manager Dusty Baker said. “So we decided that, it was wet, on the chilly side, and I decided I couldn't take a chance on him being injured too.”
Werth said that team trainers ruled out a strain or a pull, and that he’d be surprised if he wasn’t in the lineup on Saturday afternoon.
Still, any injury the Nats suffer this time of the year feels magnified, especially given the last week: Bryce Harper jammed his left thumb, Wilson Ramos tore his ACL and Daniel Murphy was shut down until the playoffs with a glute strain. Not to mention that Stephen Strasburg will likely miss the club’s entire October run.
“The biggest thing is right now is to get everybody healthy for the postseason,” Stephen Drew said. “I think that's key. We got some guys out and hopefully we'll be ready for the playoffs.”
So while every team says it’d like to head into the postseason firing on all cylinders, the Nats’ case shows that it’s not always realistic. Bottling up momentum and carrying into the biggest games of the year is the ideal, of course. But sometimes heading into the tournament with all your horses in tact works too — seeding be damned.
“Obviously home field advantage is important to us, and we want that,” Werth said. “But at the same time, we also feel like we’ve done our job a little bit. So there’s a balance there.....you don’t want to do something where you can put yourself in jeopardy, where you can really get hurt.”
NEW YORK—In a dramatic week for the Orioles, this may have been the most difficult day.
Seven days ago, the Orioles came off a four-game sweep by the Boston Red Sox that finished their hopes of an American League East championship, and since then they’ve won six of seven games and are within two games of their third trip to the postseason in the last five seasons.
This day was challenging because of the persistent rain that fell throughout the game and continued during it. Major League Baseball was determined to play the game, and the Orioles simply ignored the foul weather and pulled off an 8-1 win on Friday night over the New York Yankees before a crowd announced at 33,955 at Yankee Stadium.
The crowd was in fact thousands smaller than the announced figure, and the several thousand on hand braved game time temperatures of 56 degrees, wind and rain.
The conditions were deplorable. Rain fell throughout the day, but Major League Baseball was determined to play on Friday night, and the Orioles didn’t let the awful weather deter them as they moved a step closer to the postseason.
With their 8-1 win over the New York Yankees before 33,955 at Yankee Stadium, the Orioles reduced their magic number to two for clinching a postseason spot.
Toronto, which began the game tied with the Orioles (88-72) for the top wild-card spot, lost to Boston, giving the Orioles the top wild-card spot. Detroit, which beat Atlanta, is trailing by 1 ½ games.
“That’s about as tough as you ever want to play in,” manager Buck Showalter said. “That was tough, you really got to be ready to play.”
Showalter claims not to do too much scoreboard watching.
“Not much at all until I had no choice because it was right behind the pitcher’s head every time I looked out there. I caught a couple glimpses, but I don’t watch it that much. I really don’t. I watch our scoreboard a lot,” Showalter said.
In the past several seasons, Yankee Stadium hasn’t been kind to the Orioles. They’d lost 11 straight series openers since their last win on Aug. 31, 2012.
Yovani Gallardo bulled through the conditions, and allowed a run on two hits in six innings.
“It was hard to grip the ball and that sort of thing, and slipping off the mound and whatever. It gets tough for everybody in the field, but my main focus was after we got the lead was get the guys to swing the bat, throw the ball over the plate,” Gallardo said.
“The last thing you want to do is start walking guys and getting yourself into trouble. When I did, I was able to make some pitches.”
Gallardo (6-8) didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning when Brian McCann singled. Gary Sanchez scored when the next batter, Mark Teixeira hit a sacrifice fly to left.
Aaron Hicks singled to start the fifth, but Gallardo didn’t allow another hit.
The Orioles offense went to work and their eight runs were the most since Sept. 10.
Jonathan Schoop equaled his career high with five RBIs, a two-run double in the fourth and a three-run homer, his 25th of the season, that capped a six-run fifth inning.
Adam Jones hit his 29th home run to lead off the inning against Michael Pineda (6-12), and Mark Trumbo hit a two-run homer, his major league leading 47th to chase Pineda.
“We got a power team, and everybody is capable of catching one. The power is just one thing. We pitch, we defend, and we prove that we score not only when we hit home runs. We score when we move the runner over, sac fly, everything. We're a really good team,” Schoop said.
Gallardo, and Darren O’Day who pitched the eighth, are two players who could play pivotal roles if the Orioles get to the postseason.
Gallardo isn’t certain of making the postseason roster, and O’Day, who has been hurt much of the year, delivered a spotless eighth inning.
“That was good tonight, especially in those conditions. If we could get in, he’d be a nice piece for us to add that we’ve been missing. That was encouraging tonight,” Showalter said.
NOTES: The Orioles are the 12th team in major league Trumbo’s 47th home run ties Chris Davis (2015) for the fourth most home runs in team history. … Wade Miley (9-13, 5.40) faces Luis Severino (3-8, 5.75) on Saturday at 4:05 p.m. The six runs in the fifth were the most the Orioles scored in the fifth inning this season. … The three home run inning was the Orioles’ 10th this season, most in the majors. … The Orioles became the fifth major league team to hit 250 home runs.