Sunday, July 31, 2005

MLB: Nationals 4, Florida Marlins 2 (July 31)

WP: Livan Hernandez (13-4)
LP: Brian Moehler (6-8)
S: Chad Cordero (35)

WAS: 56-49 (2nd in NL East, 5 behind Atlanta, 1 ahead of Philadelphia, 1.5 ahead of Florida)

Finally.

The Nationals came into the game today knowing that if they lost, they would fall at least to third place in the National League East, and possibly fourth, but Livan Hernandez pitched like an ace and the Nats snapped a six-game losing streak.

Hernandez went eight innings, scattering 11 hits and giving up two runs. He also had a bases-loaded single that knocked in the eventual winning run.

Nick Johnson provided the offensive punch that the team hoped he would when he hit an RBI double in the third inning to tie the game at one, then a solo homer in the ninth that made it 4-2 Nationals.

Mike Lowell is snapping out of his season-long funk for the Marlins, as he went 3-for-4 and scored a run.

The Nationals chased Brian Moehler with a two-out rally in the fifth inning. With Jose Guillen on third, Carlos Baerga singled him home, then Gary Bennet hit a double that moved Baerga to third, then Christian Guzman was intentionally walked to bring up Hernandez, who got his RBI single.

The Nats return home to Washington after a day off to face the Dodgers and Padres in a six-game homestand. On Tuesday, Esteban Loaiza (6-6, 3.54 ERA, throws right) is scheduled to pitch against Jeff Weaver (8-8, 4.59 ERA, throws right). The Nationals had been rumored to be coveting Weaver before deciding not to make any moves at the non-waiver trade deadline.

THOUGHTS:
It's hard to call a game with two months left in the season a "must win," but if there has ever been reason to do so, this was it. A loss would have knocked the Nats to third, and possibly to fourth (although the Phillies are getting crushed by Colorado as I write this), while also being six games out of first.

While six games isn't insurmountable, being in third or fourth place and knowing you have to overtake two or three teams to get back to the division lead would be painful. Washington also remains 1.5 behind Houston and in second place for the Wild Card, and you never want to put more teams ahead of you in the Wild Card race.

This win was hopefully telling of future success, because Nick Johnson came back and added some punch to the lineup. If he continues to get hot and the Nats can capitalize on their chances, their pitching isn't going to let them get too far out of this, so they'll have a shot at least at the Wild Card. Don't give up on the Nats yet. They have the potential to be in the playoff mix deep into the season.

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