Nats Pull Out Victory Day After Clinching Playoff Spot

Normally, teams do not play as well the day after clinching a playoff spot. There are a lot of celebrations and the manager usually rests the top players the next day. Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner were not in the lineup today, but despite that the Nationals were able to squeeze out a victory against the Phillies 5-2. Another win and they will complete a rare five game sweep.

Both Anibal Sanchez and Drew Smyly were sharp early. Smyly retired the first 12 hitters he faced, seven of them on strikeouts. Sanchez retired nine of the first ten hitters he faced.

The Phillies struck first and it was Bryce Harper who led the charge in the fourth inning. He lined a hit into left center and clearly did not want to settle for a single. He took advantage of a somewhat casual Juan Soto and Victor Robles pursuit of the ball and turned it into a double. Rhys Hoskins dribbled the next pitch from Sanchez up the middle and into centerfield. The determined Harper raced home to score the first run. The one thing you can say about Harper is he can hustle with the best of them, but he can also turn it off just as easily if circumstances do not go well.

The Nationals tied it in the bottom frame. After Smyly had retired the first 12 batters, Howie Kendrick ran the count full before pulling a pitch into the left field bleachers for his 17th homerun.

Both pitchers continued their zeros until Brad Miller took the first pitch from Anibal in the seventh and sent it over the Nationals bullpen into the third deck. Miller had hit two homeruns his previous game. Scott Kingery laced a two out single and stole second and third, taking advantage of the shift being deployed for Andrew Knapp. Sanchez was able to strike out Knapp to limit the damage to one.

Just like they did in the third, the Nationals battled back in the bottom frame. Asdrubal Cabrera sent Smyly to the showers with his one out single. Yan Gomes lined a double past the glove of Rhys Hoskins that settled into the right field corner to put runners at second and third. Victor Robles drove in one run with a shallow fly ball to center, the throw skipping past the catcher into the back stop, otherwise it would have been a close play at home. Wilmer Difo punched a single into right center to score Gomes and give the Nationals a 3-2 lead.

The Nationals added two more insurance runs in the eighth off Jose Alvarez. Brian Dozier led the inning off, taking a 2-0 pitch from Alvarez into the left field bleachers. Cesar Hernandez booted a slow roller from Adam Eaton for an error. Hoskins misjudged a foul popup from Kendrick and Kendrick took advantage of the extended life by lining a single to left field, Eaton advancing to third. Juan Soto scored Eaton with a deep fly to center.

Sean Doolittle came on to pick up the easy save in the ninth. He looked sharp, striking out three hitters. He gave a one out single to Jean Segura, but struck out the next two hitters to complete the save.

Game Notes: Harper was critical of the fans in the bleachers in right field. In the eighth inning he was responding to them, almost signaling for them to bring it on. After the game he said the fans had taken it too far, but did not provide specifics as to what the fans had done. He did take the opportunity to praise the Philly fans when comparing them to Nationals fans, looking forward to returning to Philly and their 60,000 loyal fans. Myworld does not blame Harper for going to Philly. Virtually all the fans who are booing Harper would have made the same decision as Harper did when leaving the Nationals. The Phillies offer was clearly better. The Nationals offer was just enough to save face, but a clear message to Harper that they did not want him. Let’s hope they do not take the same approach with Anthony Rendon…Harper had another hustle double in the eighth that was ruled a single and an error after a Robles bobble…Adam Eaton looked horrible on a ball hit to right, turning the wrong way and watching it hit at the base of the fence. He looked like a player who had still not recovered from a night of heavy libations…Myworld will be the first to admit that we gave up on the Nationals making the playoffs after their 19-31 start. It was a remarkable show of resiliency they were able to come back and clinch a playoff spot after that horrible start…The Nationals still need to win games in order to host the wild card game. They are a game ahead of the Brewers who are just a game and a half behind the Cardinals for the NL Central Division…The loss for the Phillies dropped them to .500 and was another mini-collapse as the season came to a close (18-34 the last two Septembers). This can not be a good thing for the long term future of Gabe Kapler…J.T. Realmuto appears done for the season. He will need minor knee surgery to clean up his meniscus. He becomes a free agent after this season.

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