June 27, 2010 [LINK / comment]
I wrote that headline before the game even started, and I'm sorry to say I didn't even bother to watch it today. After the last two games, I could see the proverbial writing on the wall. On both Friday and Saturday night, the Nationals took big leads (6-0 and 5-0) in the early innings, but then just fell flat, failing to score any more runs. Meanwhile, the Orioles made the most of their home field advantage and made very impressive comebacks, beating the Nationals by one run both times. On Friday night, Nyjer Morgan had the best game of his career, making a spectacular catch in center field to rob Corey Patterson of a home run, while he went 4 for 5 (including one double) at the plate. Maybe I was too hasty in saying he is "of little use" to the team on Thursday, but I'm still dubious of Willie Harris and Adam Kennedy, whose throwing error to first base contributed to the Nats' 4-3 loss today. (He did get two hits, however.) In today's game (see MLB.com), the Nats took a three-run lead in the fourth inning, and once again could not hold it. Three consecutive "come-from-ahead" losses by just one run to a last-place team is just too much shame to bear. I sure hope manager Jim Riggleman can figure out how to arouse the Nats from their awful doldrums.
For the second game in the series, relief pitcher Tyler Clippard gave up the deciding run and was tagged with the loss. After today's game, he was visibly upset, and I don't blame him for feeling that way. I hope he shakes it off and resumes his previous high level of performance. After racing to an amazing 6-0 record in early May, rivaling the best pitchers in the majors, he is now 8-5.
On the bright side, Ryan Zimmerman has hit safely at least once for five consecutive games, though without any home runs since June 12. Fellow sluggers Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham are batting fairly consistently as well, and but Cristian Guzman and Pudge Rodriguez are both in a slump right now.
And so, the Orioles have won the "Battle of the Beltways" for the second year in a row, and now hold a 16-14 lead over the Nationals since they began playing each other in 2006. It was only the second sweep of the ten regional-rival series thus far, and the Nationals swept the Orioles (in Baltimore!) on June 12-14, 2007. A few days ago the Washington Post had an article about the Orioles' horrible season, with no improvement in sight, and since then they have won four straight games. I think they are a better team than their record (23-52) indicates, and I hope they continue to improve under their new manager Juan Samuel.
From my perspective as a fan, the Nationals' current downward spiral (10 losses in the last 12 games) is a real let-down, since I just saw two Nationals games this past week. It must be awfully depressing for the players as well, but they are professionals with great talent, and I'm sure they will bounce back. Ironically, the Nationals had a better win-loss record earlier in the season, when they were facing more challenging opponents. They were expected to do much better in interleague play, especially with Stephen Strasburg on the mound, but it did not work out that way at all. Now the Nationals head to Atlanta, where they will face the first-place Braves. Perhaps they will revert to the pattern of earlier this year and start winning on a regular basis as they face above-.500 teams in four consecutive series.