Sometimes, not even one hit with running scoring position is enough. Actually, check that, it’s never enough. That explains some things.
Stephen Strasburg was solid, allowing three runs in seven innings, but two runs in his final inning doomed the Washington Nationals (24-25) and their meek offense, as they slipped below .500 as they fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates (22-26), 3-2.
For the fourth game in this four-game losing streak, the Nats failed to score more than three runs. They scored more runs against Johnny Cueto and his 1.86 ERA, eight, than they have over this four game losing streak, seven. Thanks to a series of injuries and cold streaks, the Nationals own baseball’s worst offense in the month of May.
Tonight’s game was billed as a duel between two first overall pick aces: Strasburg, taken first by the Nats in 2009, and Gerrit Cole, tapped by the Pirates in 2011. The pitchers delivered on that promise, though Cole’s work was not exactly cut out for him. The two teams had one combined hit through the first three innings, before Ian Desmond and Neil Walker each hit a solo homer in the fourth.
In the fourth, the Nats actually managed to manufacture a run. With two outs, Anthony Rendon singled and Jayson Werth walked to put runners on first and second for Wilson Ramos. The Buffalo managed to bloop a single into right field to drive Rendon home, marking the Nats’ first run-scoring hit with a runner in scoring position since Tuesday, according to CSN’s Mark Zuckerman.
Yes, the Nats had indeed gone 1-for-22 with runners in scoring position over the first three games of the skid. That lone hit was an eighth-inning single yesterday by Zach Walters to load the bases, a situation out of which the Nationals would eventually score two runs.
After two more scoreless innings, the Pirates grabbed the final lead in the seventh. Strasburg got into quick trouble with a pair of hits, putting two runners in scoring position with one out. A sacrifice fly tied it, and after a questionable intentional walk, Josh Harrison singled home the Pirates’ third run.
It’s easy to second-guess a decision that fails, whether the process behind it was sound or not, but manager Matt Williams’ logic in this instance is somewhat shaky. With a runner on second, he walked the left-handed Travis Snider, who is hitting .214/.300/.327 on the year. Giving a batter like that a free pass is questionable at best, and especially so when it brings up a hitter like Harrison, who has posted a .296/.342/.493 triple slash line in 2014. Of course, the thinking is that having another batter on will give the team the option for a force play at any base, but the offense difference between Snider and Harrison does not seem to justify that benefit.
In any event, after clean bullpen showings from both teams, the Nats dropped their fourth straight very winnable game. The team has yet to allow more than four runs in any of these games, or to lose any by more than two runs, but the anemic offense has prevented them from taking advantage of what could well have been a four-game winning streak.
While Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman are still a ways away, tomorrow’s likely return of Adam LaRoche means that some help is on the way. And perhaps his presence will help warm up the bats of Rendon and Werth, among others.
Desmond is the only hitter on the team who isn’t struggling, and it certainly shows. He is 12-for-39 (.308) over the team’s last ten games, and has slugged four home runs, including two during this four-game slide. Had his teammates found more success in getting on, they may not have been solo homers, and some of these games might be different stories.