The Cardinals completed a three-game sweep in D.C. by winning 4-2 on Wednesday, dropping the Nationals to 10-11 on the young season.
It’s the first time the popular NL pennant pick has been below .500 since finishing the 2011 season with an 80-81 record. Last year, the Nats were over .500 after every game but one (they started the season 2-2).
Minus Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals scored just four runs in the three games against the Cardinals. One of those runs was scored by Stephen Strasburg today after his sixth-inning single, but that was the only run the Nationals amassed while he was in the contest. Strasburg dropped to 1-4 due to the lack of help.
It was the 10th time in their 21 games that the Nationals have scored two runs or fewer. Only the Marlins, with 13, have more such games. The Mariners, Padres and Phillies also have 10 apiece.
In comparison, the Yankees and Mets have just three such games.
Especially since the pitching staff is still healthy, it’s far too early for Nationals fans to panic. Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez haven’t been as dominant as hoped, but there aren’t any big warning signs there and both Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler have looked very good. Even if Dan Haren proves to be a lost cause, that’s something they can overcome once the offense gets going. And the offense is too good not to get going before much longer.
The Nationals lost a heartbreaker on Tuesday night, as the Indians overcame a two-run deficit in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Nationals 7-6. Closer Jonathan Papelbon faced five batters but was unable to record an out, yielding a leadoff walk, a double, a bunt that ended up very successful due to a Ryan Zimmerman throwing error, an intentional walk, and a single. Oliver Perez came in and eventually allowed one of his inherited runners to score, saddling Papelbon with the loss.
Papelbon also served up four runs in the outing before Tuesday’s, on Saturday against the Padres. The two clubs entered the top of the ninth tied 6-6, but a walk followed by three two-out singles and a bases-clearing double off of Papelbon allowed the Padres to take a 10-6 lead.
On the season, Papelbon is 19-for-22 in save chances with a 4.18 ERA and a 30/12 K/BB ratio in 32 1/3 innings. If the season were to end today, the right-hander’s 21.4 percent strikeout rate would be the lowest mark of his career and his 8.6 percent walk rate would be his highest mark since 2010.
Manager Dusty Baker didn’t indicate that he’s going to make a change at closer, but he sounded dissatisfied with Papelbon’s performance thus far. Via Mark Zuckerberg of MASN, Baker said, “He doesn’t have his command, which is evident when you walk the leadoff hitter. But it’s like, what do you say? How does he look? Right now he doesn’t look like Pap. He doesn’t look very good. Usually he doesn’t walk people like that.”
The non-waiver trade deadline is on Monday, August 1. The Nationals, at 58-42, still have a four-game lead over the Marlins and a 4.5-game lead over the Mets. Tuesday’s loss has motivated the club to attempt to upgrade the bullpen, Jon Morosi reports. The Nationals were in the mix for Aroldis Chapman before the Yankees sent him to the Cubs. Perhaps Andrew Miller could be next on the Nats’ wish list.
The Blue Jays announced on Tuesday night that the club traded reliever Drew Storen and some cash to the Mariners in exchange for reliever Joaquin Benoit.
Storen, 28, was designated for assignment by the Jays on Sunday after posting a 6.21 ERA with a 32/10 K/BB ratio in 33 1/3 innings. The Jays acquired him during the offseason from the Nationals in exchange for Ben Revere and a player to be named later.
Benoit, 38, struggled as well, putting up a 5.18 ERA with a 28/15 K/BB ratio in 24 1/3 innings with the Mariners.