Baseball is an emotional rollercoaster. The highs, like winning three of four in San Francisco, are so high. But the lows, like facing a sweep in St. Louis, can feel pretty low.
Despite a strong first six innings from Stephen Strasburg, runners in the seventh inning and poor outings from relievers doomed the Washington Nationals (35-32) when their offense could not produce, and they fell to the St. Louis Cardinals (36-32), 4-1.
After a closely-fought first six innings ended tied, 1-1, the action cranked up in the seventh. The Nationals loaded the bases with two outs in the top half of the inning, but after starter Shelby Miller was pulled, Denard Span grounded out to end the offensive threat.
Matt Adams, who homered yesterday for the game’s lone run against Jordan Zimmermann, led off the home half of the inning with another round tripper to put the Cardinals on top, 2-1. Strasburg proceeded to retire the next two batters, and nearly escaped the inning before Jon Jay reached on a weak infield single. At 95 pitches and with lefty Matt Carpenter about to bat, Manager Matt Williams pulled his starter for the lefty Jerry Blevins. But Blevins couldn’t get the job done, walking Carpenter, and so he was pulled for Drew Storen, who entered the game with a sterling 1.29 ERA. Even he was unable to avoid trouble, when he plunked the first batter he saw to load the bases, walked in a run, and gave up an infield hit to put St. Louis on top, 4-1.
Early on, this game was reminiscent of the previous night. A Jayson Werth double gave the Nats an early lead in the first inning, and the Cards struck back with a double and a single in the third, but neither offense found much purchase otherwise. Through six innings, Strasburg (L, 6-5) was sterling, having allowed one run on five hits while striking out five. But thanks to the bullpen allowing its inherited runner to score, he would eventually be charged with three runs on seven hits in 6.2 innings. It was another quality start, the Nats’ thirteenth in their last fourteen games, but with the suddenly limp bats, it was not enough.
One night after being shut out, the Nats offense could only muster four hits against Miller and the Cardinals’ staff, two of which came in the first inning, though they did draw four walks. An 0-for-4 night extended Span’s ignominious streak to 18 at-bats without a hit, which has dropped his batting average 20 points over the past five games. Adam LaRoche was 0-for-3 and his batting average ducked to .299, the first time he’s been below .300 since April 21st. Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa also had fruitless nights at the dish.
Now losers of three straight, the good feelings the Nats had going on during their hot streak have evaporated. Of course, this is how sports work. No team consistently plays as well as the Nats just did. There are ups and downs, winning streaks and losing streaks. Over a 162-game season, one game is largely insignificant, though as a fan, it’s difficult to rationalize that. A normal reaction to a loss isn’t “Ah, stuff happens.” It’s to point out what went wrong, and to be deeply concerned that all is lost. If the Nats’ season does not end in a playoff berth, it will not be because of these games. This is not to say that the Nationals are guaranteed success, but simply to suggest that one loss, or a string of losses, should not be overreacted to.