Nats bounce back from slump
Well, that early-summer nightmare seems to be over. After seven consecutive losses, the Nats finally won a game in Milwaukee on Sunday afternoon, by the barest of margins. In a last-minute rotation switch, Tanner Roark had another magnificent outing on the mound, going seven full innings without giving up a run. (Stephen Strasburg was scratched and was later put on the 15-day disabled list, with a strained back muscle.) Unlike the June 21 game in L.A., however, Roark had just enough run support. Replacement players Jose Lobaton and Clint Robinson each homered, proving decisive in the 3-2 victory.
Tensions were high as the Mets came to town on Monday night, in the Nationals' first home game in nearly two weeks. The Mets took an early lead, 4-0 by the middle of the third inning, and it could have been worse. But the Nats bounced back with a vengeance, and the opponents' ace Noah Syndergaard was replaced after giving up five runs in the bottom of the third. The Nats piled on more runs over the next three innings, while Joe Ross went a full six innings without giving up any more runs. Final score: Nats 11, Mets 4.
On Tuesday night, the Nats' hot pitching prospect Lucas Giolito took the mound after getting called up from the minors to replace Stephen Strasburg. Could he fulfill the sky-high expectations held of him? Absolutely, yes! He went four innings while only giving up one hit, but a heavy rain forced a lengthy delay that prevented him from returning to the mound and getting credit for the win. Anthony Rendon got a clutch RBI triple, and Bryce Harper later homered and Wilson Ramos batted in two more runs with a double, as the Nats won again, 5-0.
To recap the series in Milwaukee, the Brewers won the first two games. On Friday, Max Scherzer was once again uneven -- sometimes razor sharp and sometimes not. He gave up five runs over seven innings, while the Nats only managed to score three, in spite of four hits by Wilson Ramos. In the race for highest batting average in the majors, Ramos has pulled to within a few percentage points of Daniel Murphy, who has been in a slump, relatively speaking.
On Saturday, Gio Gonzalez had another awful outing, giving up six earned runs and lasting only three innings. He seems particularly susceptible to emotional ups and downs, so maybe he'll pull out of it. As Yogi Berra once said, "90 percent of baseball is half mental." (yahoo.com) The Nats struggled to close the gap late in the game, powered by a resurgence in hitting by Daniel Murphy, but fell short, 6-5.
That seven-game losing streak was the longest such streak for the Nationals since August 28 - September 5, 2009, when the Nats lost eight games in a row. That was in the midst of the Nats' worst year, when they went 59-103 (.364). (See my Washington Nationals page.)
The Dodgers completed their sweep of the Nationals on Wednesday night (one week ago), turning a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 victory with two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. It wasted a fine outing by starting pitcher Joe Ross. Shawn Kelley took the loss after allowing two consecutive singles, but the real blame lay with Michael Taylor, who let the second of those hits get through his glove, bouncing all the way to the center field wall, allowing the runner on first and the batter to score. I'm pretty sure that's the first ninth-or-later-inning comeback the Nats have had (either way) this season, so I will update the Washington Nationals page with that information once the last game of this month is played.
Another element of difficulty for the Nats recently is that closing pitcher Jonathan Papelbon has been put on the disabled list, forcing Dusty Baker to reshuffle bullpen duties. I have been pretty hard on Papelbon in the past, and I'm still not convinced that he is the best closing pitcher for the Nats, but he has done fairly well in spite of a few lapses, and he seems to have made amends for his assault on Bryce Harper last September. (Jayson Werth referred to Papelbon as the "D.C. Strangler." ) Who knows, one month from now Aroldis Chapman may be wearing a Nationals uniform!
So, the Nationals now enjoy a 4.5-game lead in the NL East, but the Miami Marlins have replaced the Mets in second place. The Nats are hoping to complete a sweep of their division rivals from New York this evening, and I'll be there!