WASHINGTON -- Following Wednesday afternoon's 3-0 loss to the Red Sox at Nationals Park, the Nats called a players-only meeting, an attempt to turn around a season spiraling downward. The 15-minute meeting was called by the team's veteran leaders, and Max Scherzer assumed the main speaking role, with the overall message being that they are a good team, but that they need to play better.
"Let's get this thing going," Trea Turner said. "I think we all know that we are capable of playing better baseball, and it's time we do it. It's do or die now."
The meeting was deemed necessary after Boston completed a three-game sweep and spoiled the annual July 4 game in the nation's capital for the scuffling home team. This was the fifth consecutive loss for Washington, which matches a season high. They were shut out for the eighth time since the start of June after being held scoreless just seven times last season. The Nationals are 6-18 since June 8, and only the Orioles and Royals own a worse record in MLB during that span.
The Nats are now 42-43, one game under .500, in a season that carried such grand aspirations.
"I think, as a clubhouse, we know we're a good team," Bryce Harper said. "We can go out there and compete with everybody. We have to keep grinding, keep doing our thing, and good things will happen. We've never been in this position before, and I think it's an exciting time for us. In years past, we've won the division by a lot of games, and we're able to be behind right now. I'm excited to get out there and test it."
One of the main points manager Dave Martinez has continued to lament during this skid is his team's inability to execute the little things. For instance, here's how the Red Sox scored a pair of runs in the seventh.
Adam Eaton made a sliding catch in foul territory to retire Jackie Bradley Jr. with runners on the corners, but he fired an errant throw to home plate that got past catcher Pedro Severino and Ryan Madson, who had positioned himself behind home plate to back up Severino. On the sac fly, Rafael Devers scored Boston's first run. On the throwing error, Eduardo Nunez advanced to third base with one out and scored on a wild pitch from Madson.
Combine those struggles with continued injury issues -- the latest of which was right shoulder stiffness that forced Erick Fedde to leave the game in the second inning -- and a scuffling offense, and the Nats have found themselves entering a crucial stretch.
The good news is that they play 21 of their next 27 games against sub-.500 teams, including the 11 games leading up to the All-Star break.
"I think a lot of guys are approaching it as, 'This is good for us,'" Eaton said. "We needed to take our lumps now and play some meaningful games. ... Hopefully, we can scrape and claw and really find out what kind of team we have here.
"At one point or another, this team is going to do what it's made to do and how it's built. Looking forward to that."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Nationals brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning against Craig Kimbrel, a late-inning rally after their offense scuffled through most of the afternoon. But Kimbrel struck out Michael A. Taylor and got Wilmer Difo to pop out to end the game.
"I look in that dugout, and I don't see any guys hanging their head," Martinez said. "As you can tell, the last inning, we put some good at-bats together and trying to make a comeback. That's what you get from these guys every day. Now, [we've] got to start the games like that, and things [have got] to start happening."
HE SAID IT
"We have to go out there, we have to compete every day on a daily basis. And [we've] got to start finding some consistency. But I'm not giving up on the boys. They're gonna get it. When they get it, there's gonna be something really fun. I know that. I can't hit for them. I can't play the game for them. But I promise you that I'm in that batter's box with them, hoping that they come through every day. When I go home, I think of ways of how to face things. I look at these guys, and they're playing their hearts out. They really are. [We've] just got to stick with it. This thing's gonna turn around. We were a pretty good team in May. Not very good in June, but we'll get better. I know we're going to get better. We're going to continue, and we're going to win a lot of games" -- Martinez, on the keys to the Nats' turnaround
"We just came together. We're going to be all right. It's just a matter of when. It's gonna happen quick. I don't think anybody in this room thinks otherwise. I think we believe in ourselves. It's just a matter of doing it, just a matter of a choice of us doing it." -- Grace, on his takeaway following the team meeting
The Nationals welcome the Marlins for a four-game series that starts on Thursday night at Nationals Park and begins a stretch of 11 consecutive games against sub-.500 teams. Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson will make his second start since being activated from the DL after tossing 4 2/3 innings on Saturday in Philadelphia. Miami will counter with right-hander Pablo Lopez, with first pitch set for 7:05 p.m. ET.