In a loss as disappointing as any of their letdowns in the first half of the season, the Washington Nationals (48-48) were unable to start their second half push with the bang they would have liked, as they fell, 3-2, to the Los Angeles Dodgers (48-47).
With the loss, they dropped to third place in the National League East for the first time since June 7, and padded the Atlanta Braves’ seven-game lead over them.
Stephen Strasburg had a good night, throwing seven innings on 104 pitches, giving up seven hits and two runs on a Hanley Ramirez home run in the third inning. But, his usual struggle with lack of run support again plagued his outing, and he left with a no decision.
“Stras pitched a heck of a ball game,” manager Davey Johnson said. “He pitched good enough for us to win.”
But as has happened too many times before – as evidenced by his contrasting 5-7 record and 2.99 ERA – the Nats bats didn’t come through for him, leaving six men on base and going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
The Nationals weren’t fooled by Dodgers starter Ricky Nolasco, who had held them to a .238 batting average before Friday night, but they struggled to score runs off him. Through five and one-thirds innings Nolasco gave up eight hits and two walks, but the Nationals only brought two runs around to score.
The Nats struck first in the second inning when Bryce Harper, who has absolutely owned Nolasco this year (7-for-9, 4 XBH), led off with a double.
When Jayson Werth lined out to right field, Harper decided to test the arm of Yasiel Puig, who threw a bullet to third base in time to get Harper out, but he was ruled safe. The lucky break paid off almost immediately for the Nationals when Nolasco threw a wild pitch to Ian Desmond, allowing Harper to score.
Harper got to Nolasco again in the fourth inning, when he followed a Ryan Zimmerman single with a single of his own, and Werth walked to load the bases with no outs.
But then the Nationals turned a rally opportunity into a typical, offense-sapped debacle.
Desmond, Chad Tracy and Wilson Ramos all either grounded out or flew out rather pathetically to end the inning and highlight the reason the Nationals are struggling to keep hold of second place in the NL East, rather than biting at the Braves’ heels.
Tracy led the non-stars on Friday, going 0-for-4 and adding an out to a potentially big inning three times. He grounded into a double play in the sixth inning to kill what could have been a go-ahead rally.
Tracy lowered his batting average to .149, and prompted some to start questioning whether the Nationals will seek another bat off the bench at the trade deadline. These are the types of questions the Nationals will need to find answers to quickly, as the clock ticks steadily towards October.
The final insurmountable obstacle for the Nationals came in the top of the ninth inning when closer Rafael Soriano came in to freeze the 2-2 ballgame in a tie. Instead, he was charged with the loss as Andre Ethier golfed his sixth home run of the year into the centerfield seats.
“That was frustrating,” a weary-looking Johnson said after the game. “It leaves a tough taste in your mouth. … Maybe we’ll break out against a couple pretty good pitchers. Maybe that’s what we need. … Tomorrow’s another day.”
That’s an optimistic outlook against the likes of Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, but with baseball, each team is guaranteed another chance tomorrow. Until they run out of chances.