They were 90 feet away.
But “almost” doesn’t win baseball games, and “almost” is why the Washington Nationals (54-58) find themselves looking up at the Atlanta Braves (68-45) from the bottom of a 13.5-game deep pit after their 3-2 loss on Monday night.
In many ways, the loss was a microcosm of the Nationals’ disappointing season: a strong performance from their starting pitcher, talented hitters bouncing doubles off the outfield walls, and stranded runners vacating the bases after their teammates abandoned them there.
On Monday, Anthony Rendon was the final man stranded, the tenth man left in the Nationals 1-for-10 effort with runners in scoring position. Rendon singled, Denard Span sacrificed him to second and a gift of a wild pitch put Rendon on third base with one out. But in perhaps the lamest possible end to a game between division rivals, Scott Hairston fouled out to the catcher and Chad Tracy flew out on the first pitch he was thrown.
The ending could have been different, if the Nationals hadn’t waited until the game was down to the wire before they tried to score another run.
The Nationals had men on base and the chance to score in almost every inning, but instead they wasted another gem by Stephen Strasburg and allowed the Braves to take their winning streak to 11 games.
Strasburg was dominant over seven innings. He allowed just five hits, struck out nine and limited the Braves to two runs. But, he earned a no decision because the offense failed to score more than two runs themselves.
The Nationals started the game looking like they were going to be in offensive attack mode. They scored their first run in the first inning on a double by Adam LaRoche – who keeps accumulating hits with Jayson Werth’s charmed bat – after Ian Desmond walked and Wilson Ramos singled.
They proceeded to put the leadoff man on base in seven of the next eight innings, but got only one more run to show for it, on a sacrifice fly by Rendon in the sixth.
The Nationals offense collected a total of nine hits to the Braves’ eight. But their 1-for-10 with RISP mark was just unacceptable for a game in which they went toe-to-toe with the hottest team in baseball, yet ended up losing to themselves.
Ramos, LaRoche, Rendon and Scott Hairston all had multi-hit nights, but one hit by Justin Upton in the eighth inning – a solo home run off Tyler Clippard – was more than they could rally against.
Clippard was charged with the loss, but truly the blame sat on the shoulders of the offense.
Monday’s game was the 112th game of the season, and it marked the 51st time the Nationals scored two or fewer runs. Production like that just doesn’t win games, and the Nationals hitters should be ashamed of the way they are wasting their talent.