WASHINGTON -- A season that began with so much promise came to a bittersweet end of sorts Saturday, as the Nationals were eliminated from Wild Card contention during the first inning of their 6-0 triumph against the Mets.It would have taken one of the greatest miracles in baseball history for
WASHINGTON -- A season that began with so much promise came to a bittersweet end of sorts Saturday, as the Nationals were eliminated from Wild Card contention during the first inning of their 6-0 triumph against the Mets.
It would have taken one of the greatest miracles in baseball history for the Nationals to even qualify for the second Wild Card, but when the Cardinals defeated the Giants on a walk-off homer in St. Louis, Washington's playoff hopes came to an anticlimactic end -- indicative of its disappointing season.
"It stinks," manager Dave Martinez said.
The Nationals entered 2018 as the presumptive favorites in the NL East, but a combination of key injuries, offensive ineffectiveness, bullpen struggles, the rapid rise of the Braves, and what Martinez termed the cumulative effect of "little things" led to the team's inconsistent play.
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"I think all of us in here would sit here and tell you that we came in here every day and did everything we could to try to win -- at least I did," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "Because of that, I can go home and be at peace with it. Obviously, it's frustrating, you want to come out and win every year and have a chance to go into the playoffs, but it happens. That's why it's sports, and that's why sports are one of the greatest things in the world -- because you never know what's going to happen."
With seven games left to play, the Nationals will put their playoff aspirations away and turn to smaller goals, such as individual accolades and the continued development of their younger players.
"We're going to finish this season out and hopefully get five or six more wins, maybe seven, who knows?" Martinez said. "We still have some guys playing for some milestones, and we'll make sure we try to get everyone in if we can."
One promising aspect of a tough day was the start from Austin Voth, who bounced back from a rough outing in his MLB debut on July 14 against the Mets, when he gave up seven earned runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings of work. This time, he held the Mets to one hit -- an infield single against the shift by Michael Conforto -- and struck out five during his five-inning outing at Nationals Park to pick up his first Major League win.
"I felt comfortable this time around," Voth said. "I felt awful after that first start. It didn't go the way I wanted to, but I was motivated to do better this second time. The main thing was just executing my pitches, and my curveball was really on today."
In the end, it was an odd day, as the Nationals had to weigh the positives -- such as four relievers combining to throw four hitless innings and give the team its first one-hitter since Sept. 15, 2015 -- with the very large negative of missing out on the postseason.
"The goal is to win the division, make the postseason," Zimmerman said. "A lot of good things happened this year, obviously not what we wanted to happen, but you can't do it every year."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
The Nationals broke open a close, 2-0 game in the sixth inning off Mets reliever Jerry Blevins. After Bryce Harper just missed a homer to center, Anthony Rendon followed with a double to the gap in left. Juan Soto grounded out, and after a couple of pitches to Zimmerman, the Mets decided to intentionally walk him to face Matt Wieters.
Wieters, who was hitting just .186 with one home run as a right-handed batter this season, hit a rising 1-2 fastball from Blevins into the Mets' bullpen to give Washington a 5-0 advantage.
"I felt like I just missed a heater the pitch before, and I wanted to make sure I got a little bit more on time on the heater, and I was able to get the second one," Wieters said.
The Nationals hit two franchise milestones on Saturday, as Harper's first-inning walk gave him 125 for the season. That gave Harper a career high in the category and set Washington's team record for walks.
Trea Turner picked up his MLB-leading 41st steal in the seventh inning, and that swipe tied him with Ian Desmond for the most career steals in Nationals history at 122.
HE SAID IT
"As a team and as a man, we came in ready to play every day, we just didn't play well enough this year. We felt like we had the talent in the clubhouse, and we still feel like we have the talent in the clubhouse. We just didn't play well enough. That's why this game is played on the field and not in the papers, and that's what's great about it." -- Wieters, on the end of the Nationals' postseason hopes
The Nationals wrap up the four-game set with the Mets in a 1:35 p.m. ET contest Sunday, already assured of a season-series loss to New York for the first time since 2015. Erick Fedde will make his 10th start of the campaign, and first against the Mets, when he faces off against Steven Matz.
Elliott Smith is a contributor to MLB.com based in Washington.