With the sixth you get steamrolled

2019-10-06 PatrickCorbin

Patrick Corbin, the third man in the Nats’ starters-as-relievers plan, was the first and worst to be torched.

There is one bright side to the Nationals being bludgeoned 10-4 by the Dodgers Sunday night. It means they still have a shot in their National League division series. Because they’ll send Max Scherzer to the mound for Game Four. And all they need is Scherzer to be as close to Scherzer as possible.

If he is, the Nats have a fighting chance. And, Stephen Strasburg on regular rest for Game Five in Dodger Stadium. If he isn’t, they’ll look even more like baseball’s version of a Harold Stassen presidential campaign.

For the time being, though, they might want to can the starter-as-reliever strategy no matter how testy most of their bullpen is. They need Scherzer to pitch them as deep as possible without getting drowned. While praying manager Dave Martinez shakes Sunday off enough not to push anything resembling a panic button.

Certainly not the one he pushed Sunday afternoon, when he lifted his mostly cruising starter Anibal Sanchez after only 87 pitches, five innings, nine strikeouts (mostly on changeups, power worshippers), and a 2-1 lead, the last courtesy of Juan Soto’s monstrous two-run homer past the center field fence in the bottom of the first.

All of which followed Sanchez wriggling unscathed out of a ducks-on-the-pond first inning jam. If the only thing spoiling Sanchez’s gig was Max Muncy’s two-strike launch into the right center field bleachers with two out in the top of the fifth, surely Martinez could have kept Sanchez aboard for one more inning.

Well, maybe not. Whenever Sanchez gets a third crack at a lineup the other guys nail a .923 OPS against him. Maybe Martinez really didn’t have that much of a choice if he wanted to protect a 2-1 lead. Especially knowing his bullpen not named Daniel Hudson or Sean Doolittle were the second most self-immolating group in Washington aside from the federal government.

So Martinez reached for Corbin, the third man in his starter-as-reliever series plan. Maybe it was the right move, but there’s no maybe about how wrong the result ended up. Martinez surely thought the third verse would be the same as the first two.

Then he discovered an impostor in Corbin’s uniform.

Whoever was in Nats number 46 Sunday night, the Dodgers battered him for six runs in the top of the sixth and tied a postseason record with seven two-out runs total in the inning, keeping the Nats to only a two-runs-worth reply the rest of the way.

“Anibal was at 87 pitches. He gave us all he had,” said Martinez after the Nats were put out of their misery at last. “We were at a good spot in the lineup, where we thought Corbin could get through it. And his stuff was good . . . But he had every hitter 0-2. He just couldn’t finish.”

If the stuff was good, the command was hit by a mutiny. And then the Dodgers added insult to immolation when Russell Martin, who started the sixth-inning mischief with a two-run double bounding off the left center field fence, batted on 2-1 with David Freese on first in the top of the ninth and Hunter Strickland on the mound—and sent it into the seats above the left field bullpen.

The Nats must be wondering just what they ever did to Martin to make him treat them so disrespectfully. “You try to feast on mistakes,” Martin said after the game. “And he made a few mistakes.”

After actual or alleged Corbin knocked out two strikeouts following Cody Bellinger’s leadoff single, David Freese singled to right for first and third. And Martin on 2-2 sent a nice, low enough slider to the back of left center, leaving room to spare for Bellinger and Freese to come home. Corbin promptly walked pinch hitter Chris Taylor and the Dodgers knew this was an impostor. Enough for another pinch hitter, Enrique Hernandez, to lash a two-run double deep to left.

Feast on mistakes? To these Dodgers this Sunday night Corbin, or whoever snuck into his uniform, looked like a luau.

“That was one of those things,” Muncy said, “where once one guy started doing it, the next cat picked up on it and it just kind of rolled throughout the inning.” Steamrolled, that is.

Corbin didn’t flinch when a swarm of reporters crowded his locker after the game. “It just stinks,” he said in a voice so low, from so much pain, that you might have missed it unless you were in the front row of the swarm. “I feel like I let these guys down.”

The Nats put Muncy aboard on the house, a wise move considering he’d accounted for the first Dodger run in Sanchez’s final inning with a shot into the right center field bleachers. The wisdom lasted only long enough for Martinez to get the impostor out of there, get Wander Suero in, and and get another jolt when Justin Turner hit one into the left center field seats.

Of course, having nobody in the bullpen more reliable than Hudson and Doolittle complicates things. In a four-run hole the Nats weren’t about to burn either of those two. But bringing Strickland in to deal with the Dodgers in the ninth was almost like hiring Ma Barker to command the FBI. Martin’s launch off him was the ninth bomb Strickland’s surrendered in twelve lifetime postseason innings.

“[R]emember the crick that remains in your neck from watching the delicious meatballs Hunter Strickland has been serving up for weeks,” wrote the Washington Post‘s Barry Svrluga. “He is now a symbol of this battered bullpen and is slipping into ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’ territory.”

“We just have to keep plugging away,” Nats catcher Kurt Suzuki told reporters after the game. “You definitely feel confident. You have the lead. You still have to finish it. That is a good lineup over there. They did their job tonight.”

Suzuki and his Nats need Scherzer to do as close to his normal job as possible Monday. And if they find a ransom demand for the real Patrick Corbin, pay it.

Martinez surprises with Max the Knife

2019-10-05 MaxScherzer

Could that someone out of the pen be Max the Knife?

Bet on it: it doesn’t happen if Matt Williams was still the Nationals’ manager. Bet a little on it: it might not even happen if Dusty Baker was still the manager. Davey Johnson, maybe. But it happened through the courtesy of incumbent Dave Martinez.

And it got him a return to Nationals Park with their National League division series against the Dodgers tied at one apiece. The Nats ain’t ready for the last dance just yet. And if they keep this up, they just might get one in the World Series in due course. Might.

Williams was too wedded to The Book, whatever he thought it was, to have even thought about bringing Max Scherzer in from the bullpen in National League division series Game Two. Compared to Williams, Baker was John Coltrane, but I’m not sure even Baker might have gone there, either.

Johnson’s the man who once inserted one relief pitcher into right field and the other on the mound (Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco, or was it Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell), then rotated them between the positions until his Mets won the damn game. Johnson just might have reached for Scherzer Friday night.

But Martinez did, in the eighth inning. “We weren’t expecting that,” lamented Dodgers manager Dave Roberts after the Nats finished the 4-2 win they’d started. The Dodgers and just about everyone else in the solar system.

After a long season that only began with the distinct appearance of Martinez awaiting his call to the guillotine as its victim, not its operator, who the hell did he think he was Friday night, Casey Stengel?

The good news was Scherzer striking out the side in the eighth. The bad news was, the Nats still have an honest to God bullpen, and they’re still one of the shakiest bunches this side of the old Soul Train dancers. Daniel Hudson got the ninth inning gig and got himself the bases loaded—partly because Martinez took the gamble of putting the winning run aboard with two out to set up a possible force—before swishing Corey Seager out to end it.

And before Max the Knife came in for the eighth, Sean Doolittle, usually the Nats’ closer, relieved Stephen Strasburg for the seventh and, after striking out MVP candidate Cody Bellinger to open, threw Max Muncy a dead center meatball that Muncy drove dead over the right field fence to close the Nats’ lead to a single run.

Good thing Doolittle’s pinch hitter Asdrubal Cabrera smacked Dodger reliever Dustin May’s first service into right center field with second and third for the fourth Nats’ run. Better thing that Martinez was only too willing to say screw the protocols and reach for Scherzer for the eighth. Best thing that Scherzer got Gavin Lux, pinch hitter Chris Taylor, and Joc Pederson on three straight Duke Ellingtons: It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.

It’s one thing to go all-hands-on-deck in a win-or-be-gone play-in like a wild card game. It’s something else, seemingly, to load your bullpen with your grand starting pitchers in a division series. If you still want Scherzer to start Game Three for you in Washington, it’s entirely doable after Scherzer worked only the one inning without even thinking about asking what the hell he was doing strolling in from among the arson squad.

“All the chips are on the table,” Scherzer said after the game.

Except that Martinez hinted powerfully enough that it’d be Anibal Sanchez likely to start Game Three—with Patrick Corbin available in the bullpen. Nobody around the Nats thinks it’s such a beyond-sane idea. Certainly not Scherzer.

“I’ve been in these situations before where you’re pitching on two days’ rest in all-star games and different times in the postseason,” he told reporters after Game Two. “I know that on two days’ rest, you’ve got one inning in you. So, I said whatever the situation is, I’m ready to pitch.”

Remember: that’s the man who refused to let something so trivial as a black eye and a swollen face stop him from taking his next turn and throwing a ten punchout, four-hit gem in a doubleheader nightcap in late June. A man who’ll pitch when, never mind until he’s black and blue in the face isn’t going to flinch over coming out of a postseason bullpen for a quick round.

Oh, goody (not), the Dodgers must be thinking. Remember last year. They were undone in a World Series when the Red Sox started David Price twice and closed with him once, started Chris Sale once and closed with him once (the Series winner, as it happens), and started Eduardo Rodriguez once and drew him in from the pen twice. Hello, Yogi, wherever you are around the Elysian Fields, it’s threatening to get late early out there again.

Strasburg didn’t seem to mind that Max the Knife stole some of his thunder on a night when he needed to be a little beyond his best himself. You can afford to be sanguine when your mates pry three runs out of a Clayton Kershaw who still can’t seem to find and sustain the best of his best in postseason play, while you’re busy punching out ten in six innings, surrendering three measly hits, and one measly earned run.

And it helps even more when you now have a postseason career 0.64 ERA while allowing but one run so far this October. This keeps up, we’re going to be saying Strasburg’s name in the same postseason sentences as those of Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Mickey Lolich, Orel Hershiser, Curt Schilling, Madison Bumgarner, and Justin Verlander.

You may also be saying other names to refer to the Nats before long. Ringling Brothers and Scherzer and Strasburg Circus. Brother Martinez’s Traveling Salvation Show. The Mothers of Inversion. The Dodgers could be describing them with the last of those with “of Inversion” replaced by a twelve-letter compound euphemism for “maternal fornicator” before long.


Limits to crisis addiction

2019-08-11 SeanDoolittle

This time, Sean Doolittle wasn’t at the mercy of his 2019 nemeses, the Mets.

Seek the clinical definition of “crisis junkie,” and you shouldn’t be surprised to find that the definition includes, “New York Mets.” As white hot as they’ve been since the All-Star break, the Mets have not been in complete recovery from crisis addiction.

Every crisis junkie believes it’ll take just one turn of luck, the cards, or both to escape his or her latest crisis. On Sunday afternoon, down three going to the bottom of the ninth, the Mets had more than enough reason to believe theirs was coming in from the Nats bullpen. Sean Doolittle.

Doolittle—whom they’d battered for four runs to win at the last minute Friday night and bullied otherwise all season long. With the top of the order due up for the Mets and the Citi Field crowd giving Doolittle a standing ovation as he arrived on the mound.

Doolittle—who got Jeff McNeil to line out hard to right, struck out Amed Rosario swinging, and got Michael Conforto to ground out into a right-side shift. Crowning a scoreless two-and-a-thirds relief job by Doolittle plus Daniel Hudson and Wander Suero before him.

If it was a monkey off Doolittle’s back after his season-long futility against the Mets, the Nats could still be forgiven if they felt that even this 7-4 win, snapping the Mets’ eight-game winning streak, didn’t necessarily feel like a win.

Even if the Mets spotted the Nats three unearned runs in the top of the first, on a throwing error to first and a dropped ball at the plate that would have kept Juan Soto from scoring that third run: Mets catcher Wilson Ramos had him cold by several feet before the ball fell from his mitt.

Because the Mets broke their weekend habit of fourth-inning ties by tying it at three in the bottom of the second—on a pair of one-out singles, a two-out RBI single, a sneak-attack, bases-loading, two-out bunt by Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom, and a two-run double. By then the Nats must asked, if they hadn’t the previous two nights, “What the hell do we have to do to put these pests away?”

They may not be the only team in the league tempted to keep cases of Raid in the dugout or pest control crews on call when they face the Mets.

For their part, the Mets may not quite be ready to send themselves to a twelve-step program for crisis addiction. Because if that’s what’s keeping them white hot and helping them prove they can hang with the big boys—even those addled otherwise by the injured list and by self-immolating bullpens, just as the Mets were earlier in the season—they’ll work with it.

The twelve steps could wait until the season was over or the Mets fell out back out of the races. Whichever came first. Couldn’t they?

“It’s magic!” crows a Met fan of my acquaintance. He’s probably echoed by a few million Met fans who prefer seeking extraterrestrial causes for both the heights of success and the depths of failure. You’d think they couldn’t bear to admit that playing heads-up baseball when the Mets needed to play it the most had anything to do with their post-All Star break success.

Let the Nats pull back ahead 5-3 in the seventh on a two-out, two-run double by Asdrubal Cabrera that followed a little shakiness out of the Mets’ bullpen? The Mets weren’t going to let that stand without an answer if they could help it. Conforto’s seventh-inning sacrifice fly off Nats reliever Hunter Strickland said as much.

But for a brief moment it looked as though the Nats were going to pay the price for their manager’s unconscionable brain freeze right after that. How could Dave Martinez not have challenged Pete Alonso being ruled hit by a pitch when the pitch hit the batter, not the ball, with every television replay available showing as much?

A called strikeout later, ex-Nat Wilson Ramos drilled a frozen rope right into Gerardo Parra’s glove in left to strand two Met runners and make Martinez look like a genius for a few moments. Better not to let Alonso have another swing with two aboard. Except J.D. Davis loomed and could crunch one. Strickland nailed Davis with a called strikeout before the Ramos line out. That’s called dodging the atomic bomb.

Unfortunately for the Mets, the net result is also called wasting yet another stellar deGrom start. He shook off the three unearned in the first to all but have his way with the Nats, but that first inning drained him enough that he wasn’t likely to pitch more than five innings. All odds favoured even the Mets’ shaky bullpen against the Nats’ shakier pen.

Until Jeurys Familia—once the Mets’ closer, this year a prodigal son having a horror of a season—found his old self at just the right hour to strike out the side in the top of the eighth. And Wander Suero sandwiched a grounder back to the box between two strikeouts in the bottom of the eighth.

Then Doolittle was up and throwing in the Nats bullpen and the Mets could just taste the gift coming. In a way, that was part of their problem Sunday. They looked as though they were trying to hit six-run homers in about half their plate appearances. They looked as if they wanted to get to the win without navigating the traffic on the way all day long.

Didn’t quite work out that way. Now, before they got another crack at Doolittle they had to get past the Nats in the top of the ninth. And they trusted Edwin Diaz, command struggles and all and with almost a full week’s rest in the bargain, to perform that assignment. With the dangerous top of the Nats order to greet him.

Diaz shook off a one-out walk to Adam Eaton and didn’t let Eaton stealing second stop him from catching Anthony Rendon, having a four-hit day to that point, looking at strike three. But up stepped Victor Robles, a late-game insertion to center field, after Parra was moved to left following Juan Soto’s ankle turn on a seventh-inning baserunning out, after ex-Met Asdrubal Cabrera doubled home a pair to break the three-all tie in the first place.

On 2-1 Diaz hung a slider to Robles. And Robles hung it over the left field fence. And after Matt Adams grounded out to second for the side, Diaz walked into the dugout looking as though he’d been told his favourite pet was kidnapped and left for dead. Pitching coach Phil Regan spoke gently to him and hugged him, like a father comforting a heartbroken son.

And this time Doolittle stood up well enough to his season-long bullies.

Yet considering their Friday and Saturday night surrealistics, Sunday afternoon’s loss probably didn’t feel like a loss to the whole of the Mets, either.

With apologies to Vin Scully, in a second half that has been so improbable, the impossible happened. Friday night the Nats put a boot on the Mets’ throat in the top of the ninth, and the Mets yanked it away in the bottom of the ninth. Also known as the last minute. On Saturday night, the Mets had to settle for the Nats putting the edge of a shoe against their neck and bumping it to one side in the eighth. Also known as the next-to-last minute.

Friday night the Mets overthrew two three-run deficits and Strasburg becoming the Nats’ all-time franchise strikeout leader to win. Saturday night they overthrew a two-run deficit in the fourth and a one-run deficit in the eighth to win. They’d tied against Strasburg and Patrick Corbin alike. When it came time for the running of the bullpens, the Mets ended up looking a little less like bull.

And on both nights Citi Field rocked and rolled as if this was a postseason series. It didn’t escape the Nats’ eyes and ears, either. Strasburg’s in particular.

“They pull for their team,” the righthander said, calmly but firmly, after Friday night’s shock. “And I don’t know if they come play us again, but I hope all the fans are watching the game cause it gets into crunch time and those things really carry teams and get us to the next level.”

Actually, the Mets are scheduled for one more trip to Washington, down the stretch, a 2-4 September set to end the season series between the two teams. If this weekend doesn’t make or break either the Mets’ or the Nats’ seasons, by the time that Monday-Wednesday meeting comes to pass either team could be looking closer at a wild card slot or an early winter vacation.

Theoretically, both teams could also be nipping at the heels of the National League East-leading Braves by then, too. If not sooner. The Braves are a .500 team for August so far, and after winning four straight after the All-Star break they’re 12-13 since. They’re no longer a necessarily impossible target.

But the Mets since the All-Star break restored reasons for the throngs to rock their ballpark. The Nats had a 5-6 homestand before their current road trip, but if Strasburg was calling out Nats Nation to give the team a little more in the way of the Mets’ current kind of crowd incentive, since they’re not quite dead and in the coffin just yet, Nats Nation would be wise to heed.

Even taking two of three from the Nats stands the Mets well with a trip to Atlanta looming. A Mets win Sunday would probably have made them feel invincible no matter where they traveled afterward. Ending the day at 21-7 since the All-Star break still leaves them baseball’s hottest team since that break.

A Nats loss Sunday—compounded by Max Scherzer’s continuing absence, the continuing rehabs of both Ryan Zimmerman and Howie Kendrick, and the likelihood that pending free agent Rendon may be playing his last weeks in Nats fatigues—might have made them feel as though the string to be played out was closer to resembling the clothesline from which they’d hang to dry.

The Nats have a slightly more balanced schedule the rest of the season. Starting with a weekday set against the Reds at home, they get to mix sets against the flotsam and jetsam with sets against the big boys. The Mets should be so lucky. Theirs isn’t that well balanced a schedule the rest of the season. They might have felt charmed Friday and Saturday, but Sunday should have re-grounded them enough.

Enough to remind them that crisis addiction isn’t always the way to stay in a wild card race after you’ve returned from the living dead to get back into one. Especially with bigger enough fish than the Nats swimming into the waters in which they’re about to bathe the rest of the season.

Walk through the door of your friendly neighbourhood Crisis Anonymous. Say it loud and humble. “Hi, we’re the Mets. And we’re crisis junkies.” Step one. Take it ASAP.

The Mets simplify the hard way

2019-08-10 LuisGuillorme

Luis Guillorme defied his unimpressive rookie slash line to help stun the Nats Saturday night . . .

In ancient times Casey Stengel would see ancient Satchel Paige warming up in the enemy bullpen and exhort his Yankees, “Get your runs now—Father Time is coming.” This weekend, the Nationals’ mantra could be, “Get your runs A.S.A.P. Father Time’s predictable compared to these Mets.”

But the Nats don’t really want to know from Father Time, who may be coming sooner than they’d care to know.

Not when they followed a last-minute 7-6 loss Friday night with a 4-3 loss in the next-to-last minute Saturday night. It wasn’t quite the cardiac arrest Friday night was, but it was still enough to tempt them to think of keeping crash carts on call.

Perhaps deploying one out of their bullpen. And another to their manager’s office.

Dave Martinez just didn’t have the heart, or whatever else needed, to send Hunter Strickland—his new bullpen toy, but not even a topic Friday night—out for the eighth inning after Strickland manhandled the Mets in the seventh. But Strickland is two weeks removed from returning from a lat strain that kept him down four months, and Martinez didn’t want to overtax him. Even though he looked smooth enough Saturday night.

This time, his assigned closer Sean Doolittle wasn’t even a topic. Not after the Mets bastinadoed him for four runs in the ninth to win from three runs down Friday night. This Saturday night topic was now Fernando Rodney, the elder, whose previous comparative success against the Mets was two seasons behind and barely visible in the rear view mirror.

But there was Rodney and his trademark, CC Sabathia-like lopsided hat to start the New York eighth. And leading off was a Met rookie, Luis Guillorme, who brought all of a .156/.182/.188 slash line to the plate batting for center fielder Juan Lagares. It should have been meat for Rodney. Instead, he was dead meat.

On a full count, during the making of which Guillorme didn’t even wave his bat, and Rodney didn’t even hint toward throwing the changeup that was once his money pitch and was still reasonably effective, Rodney served Guillorme a meatball. And Guillorme provided the sauce. He sent his first major league home run clean over the right field fence to tie things at three.

Then late-game Mets second base insertion Joe Panik grounded one to short. Sure-handed, sure-footed Nats shortstop Trea Turner had it just as surely. But first baseman Matt Adams mishandled his uncharacteristic low throw, leaving Panik safe to move to second on a followup single lined up the pipe by Jeff McNeil for his first hit of the weekend.

Out came Rodney. In came Daniel Hudson, who’d worked a near-effortless eighth on Friday night. And, after Amed Rosario’s hard grounder pushed the runners to second and third, Pete Alonso checked in at the plate.

The Nats optimist said, we’ll have none of that nonsense this time around. That nonsense, of course, being Alonso drilling Stephen Strasburg for a two-run blast in the fourth Friday night.

The Nats realist said, pick your poison, Davey. Because putting Alonso on to load the pads meant facing J.D. Davis—who’d followed Alonso’s Friday night flog with his own game-tying solo jack in that same fourth. And, who hit one of two consecutive solo bombs in the Saturday night fourth, birthday boy (and former Nat) Wilson Ramos hitting the second of them to tie this game at two.

So Martinez picked Davis. The good news: this time, Davis didn’t reach the seats. The bad news: His fly to right was long and deep enough to send Panik home with what proved the winning run.

And if Martinez couldn’t bear to send Strickland out for a second inning’s work in the bottom of the eighth, Mets manager Mickey Callaway wasn’t as nervous as you might think about sending Seth Lugo out for a second inning’s work in the top of the ninth.

Lugo may have had command issues in the top of the eighth, magnified when Juan Soto hit his second homer of the night, a mammoth drive into the second deck in right, to put the Nats back ahead 3-2. But Callaway gambled that that was just Lugo getting really warmed up. He also wasn’t entirely sure about trusting Edwin Diaz, who’d warmed up during the eighth.

So Lugo, named the National League’s relief pitcher of the month for July, went out for the ninth. Noisy Citi Field and edgy Nats Nation, wherever they were, said their prayers accordingly.

But former Met Asdrubal Cabrera lined out to right.

And Victor Robles looked at strike three on the outer edge, on a night plate umpire Tripp Gibson gave Nats and Mets pitchers alike a very generous outer strike zone.

Then Gerardo Parra—maybe the Nats’ best pinch hitter and bench representative, entering the game with a .319 career batting average against the Mets—batted for Nats catcher Yan Gomes.

And, after Parra fouled off a 3-1 service, Lugo caught him looking at strike three.

All of a sudden, Soto’s two-run homer off Mets starter Noah Syndergaard in the top of the first seemed a small memory to plague Mets fans. Just the way Davis and Ramos’s fourth-inning destruction (setting a new Mets team record for consecutive multiple homer games) seemed to Nats Nation after Soto teed off in the top of the eighth.

Once again, the Mets found a way, any way,  past or around the Nats’ effective starting pitchers, in Saturday night’s case Patrick Corbin. Once again, the Mets got into a bullpen whose 10.10 ERA against them entering Saturday night meant giving them at least one definite victim against who they could fire whatever bullets happened to be handy.

And once again, the Nats couldn’t find a way to make anything stick, even on a night Syndergaard had to shake off an early explosion and some early inconsistency to keep them off the scoreboard further for the rest of his seven innings’ work. Not even on a night when Corbin was mostly his calmly effective self through six.

The Nats compelled the Mets to do things the hard way, late but their bullpen, retooling and all, showed it still had major kinks to un-kink. But the Mets didn’t exactly seem to object to doing things the hard way. It’s coming easier for them that way.

Now, it may not be a question of whether these still-somewhat-flawed Mets can hang with the big boys yet. But it may be a question as to whether these Nats will hang. With the big boys, or at the end of their own noose.

Toast of the tomb?

2019-05-23 DaveMartinez

Dave Martinez may have been frustrated by a lot more than just a checked-swing strikeout getting his hitter and himself tossed Thursday afternoon.

When this week began, the Nationals went to New York in the somewhat delicious position of maybe holding the fate of the Mets’ embattled manager in their hands. Starting with the day Mickey Callaway received the guaranteed-to-make-you-shudder vote of confidence from the Mets’ brass after their weekend of Miami vice.

The week is now almost over. And it’s the admittedly injury-battered Nats going home to face the same Marlins this weekend who made life so miserable for the Mets last weekend, before the Mets did to the Nats what the Nats could have done to the Mets: the possible conversion to “when” from “if” manager Dave Martinez would be the toast of the tomb.

It must have been in the back of Martinez’s mind Thursday afternoon, when he got himself thrown out late in the game after hustling out futilely in the top of the eighth to pick up where his freshly-tossed batter Howie Kendrick left off.

Kendrick got the ho-heave for arguing a checked swing third strike with plate umpire Bruce Dreckman despite a few television replays showing his bat crossed the front of the plate by a fingertip. Martinez went out and put on a show that would have gotten him laughed out of Lou Piniella’s, Billy Martin’s, and Earl Weaver’s taverns post haste.

He spiked his hat so weakly despite a hefty windup that it almost spun like a paper plate around the batter’s box. He didn’t kick dirt so much as he brushed it almost lazily around the plate. Not a drop kick or a dirt punt to be seen. Dreckman must have thought he was throwing Martinez out of the game not for insubordination but to spare the poor chump any more embarrassment than he must have felt already.

The good news was the Nats putting an end to Mets reliever Robert Gsellman’s fifteen-inning scoreless streak almost the moment Martinez disappeared and turning a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead. The bad news was Wander Suero throwing enough of a bloated diet of cutters in the bottom of the inning that Carlos Gomez whacked a three-run homer to turn that lead into a 6-4 Mets lead and, in very short order, Nats loss.

A four-game sweep from the team whose own manager they could have guaranteed assassination this series. At the helm, a manager of their own who really does seem to be in so far over his head he can look up and not see the propellers of any ship sailing above.

“Dave Martinez is a good man,” read the headline on Thomas Boswell’s Washington Post column Wednesday morning. “But he probably shouldn’t be managing the Nationals.” The Mets, who have a good man people think probably shouldn’t be managing them, either, made that headline the understatement of the week.

But on Thursday the Mets turned Callaway’s own eighth-inning brain vapour into a virtue by default. After reversing his early season proclamation that there’d be no way Edwin Diaz would see four-out save chances so soon if at all, Callaway now seemed to reverse his reversal. He needed a four-out save try from Diaz to keep the Nats from overthrowing that 3-1 lead. He didn’t go for it.

Callaway got bloody lucky that Gomez caught hold of the Suero cutter that didn’t even pinch. And that prompted another Post baseball writer, Barry Svrluga, away from being quite as kindly as Boswell was a day earlier. “Who cares about Dave Martinez?” went the headline on Svrluga’s column within an hour after the Mets finished the sweep. “In a lost season, Nationals face tougher decisions.”

The National League East race that was supposed to be between four teams has been shrunk to a two-and-a-half-team race before May’s finish. Nobody knows just when Callaway’s stay of execution expires, but the Nats go home from New York with Martinez’s execution orders possibly being drawn up as I write.

Every detailed account I’ve read to date tells me Martinez knows how to get along with and manage people and personalities. Those of his players who’ve disagreed with how he’s deployed them admit he listens to their complaints, discusses them, never holds the complaints against them, and even (as Boswell pointed out) admits when he blunders. If you could take your baseball sins to a confessional, Martinez could be accused of melting the priest’s ears off.

After cashiering Dusty Baker for blowing a postseason win Baker had absolutely nothing all that much to do with blowing, the Nats hired Martinez figuring, reasonably, that anyone who spent a decade total as Joe Maddon’s consigliori—including a surprise World Series gig for the Rays and an even bigger surprise World Series conquest for the Cubs—couldn’t possibly let the needs and necessities of baseball games leave him stuck for answers.

This week the earnest, glass-half-full Martinez was stuck for too many answers while he was out-generaled by a Mets manager about whom you can say it’s pushing it to hand him a rank higher than master sergeant. It got out of hand enough that even when Martinez did the right thing—bringing in Sean Doolittle to stop the bleeding and keep it close in the eighth Wednesday night—it blew up in his face.

First, the customarily reliable Doolittle plunked Gomez in the elbow guard to load the bases. Then, Juan Lagares cleared them with a double that weird-hopped off the bottom corner of the left field wall padding. Then, Martinez elected to put former Nats catcher Wilson Ramos on first intentionally to let Doolittle get to Mets pinch hitter Rajai Davis.

Davis, a fading journeyman three years removed from his greatest glory, a mammoth Game Seven-tying two-run homer in the 2016 World Series. Davis, who signed a minor league deal with the Mets last December, was called up from their Syracuse minor league team, and had to hire an Uber driver to take him from Scranton to Citi Field—where first he couldn’t find the park, then he couldn’t find the clubhouse, and didn’t meet his new boss until the fifth inning.

That’s so Mets, the world and probably the Nats in hand thought when Davis went out to bat for Mets reliever Drew Gagnon. In probable need of atoning for meeting the new boss late on the first day of his unlikely promotion, Davis hit a three-run homer and put the game far enough out of reach that Callaway would have wasted Diaz by sending him out for the ninth, instead ending the game and the Mets’ win with a (Tyler) Bashlor party.

To the Nats it must have felt as though this was becoming just so Nats.

You can’t hold Martinez responsible for Adam Eaton missing first on Thursday, or for Juan Soto being stranded after a leadoff triple, or for Yan Gomes throwing the ball into center field with no backup crossing over behind second, or for Suero showing so many cutters Gomez could have swung a meat cleaver through it and sent both halves over the fence.

But Martinez “hasn’t fixed those unforgivable ‘little things’,” Svrluga writes, almost mercilessly, “and they’re killing this club; strategy-wise, he’s too often chasing the game, trying to solve yesterday’s problems today; and worse, he can’t offset those deficiencies with his presence, which is far more part-of-the-wallpaper than let’s-go-to-war.”

Svrluga won’t be the only observer wondering now not just when and not if Martinez will be executed but when and not if the Nats should start re-tooling if not rebuilding.

Including thoughts of turning Anthony Rendon into fresh talent, Doolittle into something more in the bullpen than yet another helping of bull, and even Max Scherzer into value before Scherzer can exercise his 10-5 rights and stamp REJECTED on any possible trade.

Including thoughts of retooling around a pretty solid core of Turner, Soto, Victor Robles, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. And maybe even Erick Fedde, who gave the Nats a terrific chance to win Tuesday night before Martinez suddenly had no choice but to turn that game over to the Show’s number one arson squad. Of arsonists, not firefighters.

“The Nats still can’t defend against a safety squeeze bunt or remember that the cutoff man is not twenty feet tall or grasp that a baserunner’s first responsibility is to avoid getting picked off,” Boswell wrote. “The Nats still regard turning double plays as optional; they need a manager who regards it as a prerequisite to remaining in the lineup tomorrow. Pitchers, including Max Scherzer (and Wander Suero), don’t seem to grasp that giving up a gopher ball on an 0-2 pitch is about the dumbest thing you can do.

“Martinez addressed all these issues,” he continued. “But after 210 games, they haven’t changed. The Nats now have a clubhouse . . . in which no one is above the law. So why all the recidivist scofflaws?”

General manager Mike Rizzo loves to hoist his mantra: “You’re either in or you’re in the way.” As Svrluga writes, that should be his question the rest of the way. (Never mind that Rizzo and perhaps the Nats’ owners often enough have an off-kilter view of who or what’s in the way.) Martinez is in, on Rizzo’s terms, but that hasn’t alleviated his in-game confusions and his players’ inconsistent abilities to execute.

“If this guy ever gets to work with a young team,” Boswell wrote, “that grows with him and melds with him as he learns to handle a pitching staff and a bullpen . . . he might be good.” Might, in more ways than just strength, doesn’t make right. And Martinez has managed the Nats to the fastest 31st loss of a season since the team landed in Washington in the first place.

If Martinez’s execution orders have been signed and sealed, you can be forgiven if the list of reasons ends with, “Allowing the manager most likely to be guillotined to lock him into the blade’s path instead.”

This season especially, that’s so Nats.