DENVER -- The Nationals anticipated they would be the ones playing meaningful games at this point in the year and gearing up for even more important games next month. They will head home for the winter instead, but first they have a grand opportunity to play spoiler during this three-game
DENVER -- The Nationals anticipated they would be the ones playing meaningful games at this point in the year and gearing up for even more important games next month. They will head home for the winter instead, but first they have a grand opportunity to play spoiler during this three-game series in Colorado.
It is a role that does not come naturally to these Nationals, who will miss the postseason for the first time since 2015, but one they have embraced in order to keep this weekend competitive. The Nats could not prevent the celebration from starting Friday night, however, dropping the series opener, 5-2, to allow the Rockies to clinch a postseason berth for the second straight season.
Even though the Nats collected 11 hits and a walk against Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland, they failed to capitalize on those scoring chances. Trea Turner's two-run triple fell into right-center field in the fourth inning, but it was all the offense Washington could manage. Colorado's bullpen tossed the final three scoreless innings as the sold-out crowd of 48,089 grew louder in anticipation of a champagne celebration.
"I think we just have a lot of competitors," Turner said about playing spoiler. "Nobody wants to give anything away. If we win, we win. If we lose, we lose. But we're definitely gonna go out there and compete against these guys."
This game also served as the Nationals' final chance to evaluate Joe Ross this season as he made his third 2018 start after returning from Tommy John surgery. His results were mixed. He gave up a solo homer to Charlie Blackmon in the third and back-to-back homers to Ian Desmond and Chris Iannetta in the fifth. Ross gave up four runs on five hits in five innings to finish his season with a 5.06 ERA in three starts.
"I got a lot of things to work on, but I'd say the biggest thing is just being healthy," Ross said. "At least being on the mound is the biggest thing for me. But I got a lot of stuff to work on."
These final starts of 2018 helped prove Ross was healthy and shook off any lingering rust after missing more than a year. Now, the Nationals will have to decide how he factors into their plans for 2019 with at least two vacant spots in their rotation currently.
"I know he's going to be good," manager Dave Martinez said. "He's going to be really good. He's battled back from Tommy John. This is just kind of growing pains to get back into the swing of things. Next year, he's going to help us win a lot of games."
As the Nats are forced to look ahead to such decisions for next season, the Rockies' celebration Friday offered another cruel reminder of what they missed out on this season.
It is no cause for a celebration and only a small prize for a team with much bigger dreams, but the Nationals secured a second-place finish following the Phillies loss Friday. Washington only needs one more win this weekend to clinch its seventh consecutive winning season.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Turner's two-run triple in the fourth inning carried a hit probability of just 12 percent, as measured by Statcast™, but it found room to land in the spacious outfield of Coors Field. Turner notched his sixth triple of the year on a ball he admitted he did not think would fall to the ground.
"No. Not at all. I was just trying to battle with two strikes," Turner said. "I wanted to put the ball in play, so when I hit it, I said to myself, 'At least I gave myself a chance.' But I didn't think it was gonna get down. It kept going. I'll take it."
HE SAID IT
"Sammy earlier in the year helped us win a lot of games. And then he kind of lost it a little bit. But I'm not giving up on him. I'm not." -- Martinez, on Sammy Solis' continued struggles against lefties
Stephen Strasburg will close out what has been an injury-riddled 2018 season on Saturday night in Colorado. This will be just his 22nd start of the season, limited by two separate stints on the DL, as Strasburg tries to finish on a high note after needing 100 pitches to get through four innings in his most recent outing. Jon Gray will start for the Rockies; first pitch is at 8:10 p.m. ET.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.