Here is the current state of the Nationals, summed up in one inning of baseball played Tuesday night during a 6-1 loss to the Mets:
They scored a run without producing a hit. Then their first hit of the game actually prevented a run from scoring.
Something’s just not adding up at the moment for a Nationals club that at times looks like the most-dominant team in the National League yet lately has been finding creative and agonizing ways to lose ballgames, and as a result just can’t create much space between itself and the Braves in the NL East.
“I think the way the season’s gone, the way it’s happened with injuries and guys being banged up all year, I think we’re in a pretty good spot,” Jayson Werth said. “We’re finally healthy, and I think we’re playing pretty good baseball. I think the distance will come in time.
“I feel like we’re going to go on a run here at some point, too. I like where we’re at. I like the way we’re playing night-in and night-out. We’ve been pitching good, the defense has been good, the hitting’s been good for the most part. The last couple nights we haven’t been able to get the big hit. But all in all, I feel like we’re in a good spot.”
That may prove to be the case, but at the moment, the Nationals remain in first place in the NL East more a result of the Braves’ struggles — they carried a 6-game losing streak into last night’s late game against Felix Hernandez in Seattle — than as a result of their own consistently impressive play.
They’ve now lost 8-of-13 games since Ryan Zimmerman suffered a serious hamstring strain in Colorado, and their lineup appears to be suffering for it. Though they’ve averaged 12 men on base in each of those 13 games, they’ve scored an average of only 3.5 runs. (Throw out Saturday’s 11-run explosion against the Phillies and that number drops to 2.9.)
The opportunities certainly were there for the taking Tuesday against Zack Wheeler and the Mets. Wheeler put seven men on base during a 10-batter stretch in the second and third innings, yet the only run he surrendered came via a wild pitch (following three walks).
And the hit that actually prevented a run from scoring? It came off Jose Lobaton’s bat, with runners on second and third and one out in the second. Trouble is, it struck teammate Asdrubal Cabrera as he tried to advance from second to third. By rule, Cabrera was out, Lobaton was awarded a single and Ian Desmond had to return to third base. Had Cabrera avoided contact, the groundout would’ve scored Desmond. Instead, the Nats got nothing out of it.
“I didn’t see that ball coming towards me,” Cabrera said. “He hit it hard enough that I didn’t even know. I thought it was right to my left.”
That was probably the low point of the night, though it was hardly the Nationals’ only squandered opportunity at the plate. They also twice hit into double plays with two on and nobody out (Werth and pinch-hitter Steven Souza Jr. were the culprits), saw Werth thrown out at the plate on Adam LaRoche’s sixth-inning single and saw Desmond strand six men on base via two comebackers and a strikeout.
“There’s no common thread,” manager Matt Williams insisted. “There’s no way to say: ‘OK, this is because, this is why.’ No, I mean, I haven’t seen a guy get hit with a batted ball in a while. He tried to skip over it. The ball actually was hit pretty hard by Loby and it skipped off the grass and it just nicked him. It happens sometimes. It seems like it’s going the wrong way the last couple of days, but we can turn that around tomorrow.”
The Nationals will give it another shot Wednesday night. They’ve got two more games with the Mets before heading to Atlanta for a crucial weekend series, hoping they can create enough cushion between themselves and the Braves to ensure they leave town in first place no matter the result.
“We’re pretty much aware of everything,” Werth said. “We know what’s going on around here. I feel like we’re in control of our game and where we’re at in the season. I just feel like at some point we’re going to go on a roll and rattle off some wins. We’ve got some division games coming up. August-September is really the time to go on a roll if you’re going to do it. I feel like we’re poised to finish this thing off, but we’ve got to continue to play good.”