Messy sixth sinks Nationals in Miami

April 20th, 2019

MIAMI -- If the opening weeks of the season have provided one takeaway, it’s that the National League East appears to be as tightly contested as anticipated with the Phillies, Braves, Mets and Nationals all in position to compete for the division crown. The difference in the division could come down to how each team performs against the rebuilding Marlins, who began the day with MLB’s worst record.

The Nationals made their first visit to Marlins Park on Friday night, but dropped the opener of a three-game set thanks largely to a difficult sixth inning, when five consecutive Marlins reached base to lead Miami to a 3-2 victory.

“I think it’s a good thing to kind of see that there’s no let-ups in the league,” said Nats second baseman , who accounted for half of Washington's runs with a solo homer in the seventh. “You can always feel like you’re expected to win a game, but this is the big leagues for a reason, so every team has a chance to beat you. That was a showing of that tonight.”

Nats starter had cruised through the start of the game, but with the game tied at 1 entering the sixth, he ran into trouble, giving up a one-out double to and an infield single to . Then, attempted a safety squeeze and bunted it back to Sanchez, who fielded it cleanly and flipped the ball to home plate, but Rojas recognized the play in time to retreat back to third.

“I saw Rojas halfway and my instincts just said throw the ball to home plate,” Sanchez said. “You’re just thinking ahead in that situation, that’s why I wasn’t ready to throw to first.”

That left the bases loaded for a pinch-hitting , who entered the game 15-for-36 in his career against Sanchez, but Sanchez lost the strike zone and issued a five-pitch walk, forcing in a run to give the Marlins the lead. It was also the end of Sanchez’s night, turning it over to the Nationals bullpen and left-hander . But Grace’s first pitch hit , forcing in another run and extending Miami’s lead to two.

“It was one of those innings,” manager Dave Martinez said.

That inning ended up as the difference in the game, another instance where the Nationals were unable to execute the “little things” Martinez has stressed so often this year. He also expressed some frustration at the Nationals' inability to bring runners in scoring position home after the Nats went 1-for-7 in those scenarios in this game.

In a division race this tightly contested, the margin for error is small. A year ago, the Nationals took care of business against the Marlins, succeeding against them to the tune of a 13-6 record in their 19 meetings, a record Washington can aspire to this year in order to make life easier in the race to the top of the division.

“The division is pretty tough,” Sanchez said. “It is. It’s no doubting how good the division is. It’s not because the Marlins are in the last position that they don’t play hard. They play really, really good … this team comes out to play hard. They want to win games too.”