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Nats still feel no love in Philly

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Nats still feel no love in Philly

PHILADELPHIA -- For all the agony they have suffered in this town, the lopsided losses and the taunting fans and especially the division titles clinched against them, the Nationals arrived in Philadelphia on Tuesday knowing they could leave town Thursday having celebrated on enemy turf.

First things first, though. They needed to win their series opener against the Phillies, which proved perhaps a more daunting task than hoped.

A two-inning meltdown by Ross Detwiler left the Nationals in a deep early hole. Then, despite knocking out ace Cole Hamels after five innings, they couldn't touch a parade of relievers that trotted out of the Philadelphia bullpen.

Combine this 6-3 loss with the Braves' simultaneous walk-off, 4-3 victory over the Marlins and suddenly the Nationals' path to the NL East crown looks a bit bumpier. Their lead is down to four games with eight to play. Their magic number remains five. And they can no longer clinch here in Philly. The celebration can't take place until Friday night in St. Louis at the absolute earliest.

"You take a lot of pride getting a win down the stretch like this," Detwiler said. "That's what we all play for. It could have been a big step. We could have celebrated on their field, like they have on our field, and I didn't let that happen."

The notion of the Nationals dancing in the middle of the diamond at Citizens Bank Park -- just as the Phillies did at Nationals Park upon clinching the 2010 NL East title and just as they did right here with the Nats in attendance in 2007 and 2008 -- maybe was too perfect. The poetic symmetry might have been too much to expect.

But if they couldn't wrap this thing up in front of their own fans on South Capitol Street, the Nationals would have loved to do it in South Philly. Just one problem: The local ballclub may not reach the postseason for the first time since 2006, but it's still a mighty tough club to beat.

Indeed, the Phillies remain a major thorn in the Nationals' side. Washington owns a 33-21 record against everyone else in the division but is now 5-8 against the five-time reigning champs.

"They've got a lot of quality players over there," manager Davey Johnson said. "Great pitching staff. Good team."

They also possess several potent bats, especially with Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz all healthy at the same time at last. But opposing pitchers know they can be beat, provided they aren't simply handed free bases.

That's what left Detwiler kicking himself at the end of this night. He could've been most upset about the two home runs he surrendered: one to rookie Darin Ruf, an old college adversary in the Missouri Valley Conference, and one to Ruiz, who tattooed a third-inning fastball into the left-field stands for a three-run homer that blew the game wide open.

The home runs, though, were less of a concern to Detwiler than the three walks he issued over a four-batter span in the second and third innings. The first was a four-pitch walk to Hamels; the second two opened the next frame and set the stage for Ruiz's homer.

"When I don't even have a fastball, that's what happened," he said. "I was kinda out there throwing the ball the other batter's box. It wasn't even close. You can't even expect a swing and miss at that point."

Unable to get ahead in the count with his fastball, Detwiler couldn't then turn to his offspeed pitches to finish off hitters, frustrating his manager.

"He's got a great fastball, but he's also got a good changeup and good curveball," Johnson said. "He's got to learn to pitch with them instead of just trying to overthrow. And that's what he was doing, just trying to overthrow. What'd he walk, five guys or something? You've got to learn. That's that learning process."

Detwiler did manage to right his ship and retired the last nine batters he faced following the Ruiz homer. At that point, the Nationals trailed 5-1, though they still liked their chances after knocking out Hamels (who threw a whopping 99 pitches in only five innings) and forcing Phillies manager Charlie Manuel to go to his suspect bullpen early.

The Nationals, though, couldn't touch that relief corps. They went 1-for-13 against Josh Lindblom, Justin DeFratus, Antonio Bastardo, Phillipe Aumont and Jonathan Papelbon and never seriously threatened to mount a comeback.

"You definitely want to get to the bullpen, especially in those middle innings," catcher Kurt Suzuki said. "But sometimes you can't do it."

As this was all playing out, the Nationals might not have been able to help but notice the out-of-town scoreboard along the right-field wall. The Braves were three outs from a 3-2 loss to the Marlins, then suddenly came back to life and won in dramatic fashion on Freddie Freeman's game-winning homer off Mike Dunn.

Thus Atlanta officially clinched a playoff berth, while also trimming the Nationals' lead in the division to four games, the smallest margin they've owned since August 28.

"I think the worst thing you can do is look at the standings," Suzuki said. "A loss is a loss. Losses always hurt. You definitely want to win more games than you lose. But it's just one of those games. Put it behind you, look forward to tomorrow and give us a chance to win the series."

The Nationals still control their own destiny, with even some margin for error. If they go 4-4 the rest of the way, the Braves would need to go 8-0 to force a one-game tiebreaker to determine the NL East champ and the Wild Card.

An Atlanta loss or two wouldn't be frowned upon, either.

"All year long, we've won, they've won, we've won, they've won," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "For them to get one up on us today, it's no big deal. We've still got eight games to go, and I think we feel pretty good about ourselves."

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Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals manager Dusty Baker is back for a second year and feeling optimistic for his Washington team. Spring training has begun in Florida and it has Baker thinking about how the Nats can create some excitement for local sports fans.

In an interview with American University’s WAMU radio station, Baker said D.C. wants to be a "city of champions.” Furthermore, he thinks it can be pulled off before the year ends.

"I came here to win a championship and you know I would love nothing more than to bring one to Washington. Washington, I didn’t know it before I got there, but it’s had a tough time getting out of the first round in a number of sports."

He projected the Nationals to bring home the next championship for the District, but he knows they have competition of late. 

"Washington Wizards are looking pretty good. I’m pulling for them first because their season ends before ours, so I’ve been really following them. The Capitals have a good thing going. I started watching the Redskins more this year.

"You know once it gets contagious in a city and you get a positive attitude throughout the city, then it transfers to the sports teams. So we want to be known as a city of champions, before the end of the year hopefully."

Baker has a reputation for bringing out the best in his teams, especially managing star players. He managed the San Francisco Giants for ten seasons before moving on to the Chicago Cubs, a team he managed for four seasons.

He's never won a World Series, but has taken a team to Game 7. He also finished third for the 2016 National League Manager of the Year award.

So, what are Baker’s steps for the Nationals to get that ultimate prize? A simple formula, really.

"I think that we’ve got to stay healthy, number one. We’re trying to fill the holes that we need to fill, and we’ve got to play," he said. "You know last year we were very close, we were one hit away or one play away or one pitch away from going to the next round against the Cubs."

While he says he came to win Washington a championship, he's also enjoying his time in the city. 

"I love D.C. Before that, San Francisco was my favorite town; that’s my home. But I tell you, D.C. is definitely in the running," he said. "I thought San Francisco had the best seafood, but man, you guys have the best seafood I think in the world."

Thanks, Dusty!

The Nationals play their first spring training game against the New York mets on Saturday.

RELATED: NATIONALS REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE

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Former Nationals outfielder admits to drinking vodka before MLB games

Former Nationals outfielder admits to drinking vodka before MLB games

When it comes to sports, we sometimes forget that the athletes we look up to are just normal people. Normal people who have a lot to prove to millions of people on a weekly basis. Former Nationals outfielder Rick Ankiel has discussed one of his human moments in an interview with 590 The Fan in St. Louis.

Ankiel admitted to drinking vodka during his plight as a pitcher. He referenced his first two starts of the 2001 season, in particular against the Arizona Diamondbacks where he allowed his anxiety to give in to alcohol to soothe him. In the previous postseason, he became the first pitcher since 1980 to throw five wild pitches in a single inning. 

It may have worked for a couple of games but Ankiel eventually realized it was only making matters worse.

Ankiel began playing in Majors at the age of 19, and has had a fluctuating career through six teams. All the while, he has kept a “never give up” mentality.

Why the sudden need to vent? Ankiel is getting up close and personal with his upcoming book, “The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed my Life” which is co-written by sports writer Tim Brown. The book will be released on April 18.  

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