The positive and franchise best 14-4 start for the Washington Nationals has ended with a thud, or maybe, more appropriately, with a swing and a miss. Despite allowing a mere 11 runs over the past four games, the Nationals lost them all, including today’s dispiriting defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers, 2-0. L.A.’s three game sweep of the Nationals completed a trifecta of woe for Washington — they lost their first series of the season, no longer hold the best record in the National League (the Dodgers do) nor first place in the NL East (now tied with Atlanta), and have lost four consecutive, yet eminently winnable games.
The culprit? The offense, which, when the team was winning, was anemic, but able to piece just enough timely rallies together. Now, the offense is just plain anemic and a pressure-building albatross around the necks of the pitching staff that three times in the past four games cracked under the no-marging-for-error pressure (to be fair, Henry Rodriguez had a fairly comfortable 2-run margin for error, but just plain cracked under the pressure of trying to save a game on the road).
Today, the Nationals managed all of four hits against Dodgers’ pitching, including a paltry three off of decidedly mediocre starter Chris Capuano. Two of the three hits came from guys playing in AAA Syracuse two days ago – phenom Bryce Harper and left fielder Tyler Moore, recalled earlier in the day for the injured veteran Mark DeRosa.
The Nationals’ offense will get no relief from quality pitching as, after an off-day tomorrow, the club faces 2011 division winners Arizona and Philadelphia. Arizona boasts Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, and Joe Saunders on its staff – all excellent so far in 2011. Of course, the Phillies have two of baseball’s best Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay slated to throw in the “Our Park” three game series next weekend. With Ryan Zimmerman disabled until Sunday, Michael Morse out for at least another month, and Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa hitting like they belong in AAA, runs will be tough to come by.
If the hitting and run-scoring does not improve soon, however, this current four game losing skein could reach epic proportions by next Sunday.
Champ of the Game: Harper, who had a hit, a grinding 9th inning walk that brought Jesus Flores to the plate as the potential go-ahead run, and made a great catch against the wall in centerfield. Once his adrenaline subsides after his whirlwind weekend he may struggle in the bigs, but he sure looks like he belongs so far.
For the Dodgers, James Loney‘s two-run single in the 6th provided the margin of victory and a sweep.
Chump of the Game: The entire Nationals line-up, sans Harper and Moore. Including those two, the team somehow struck out 14 times against three L.A. pitchers, including whiffing 9 times against soft-tossing southpaw Capuano.
Unsung hero: Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen battled through two walks to strike out three Nationals and earn his second save of the 2012 season. Somehow, he managed to not throw a wild pitch.
A final note: Despite ending with a four game losing streak, the Nationals 14-8 record is good enough for a first place tie with the Braves and represents the best April since baseball returned to Washington and the franchise’s best start since 2002, when the Expos won six in a row to go from 8-8 to 14-8.
Next Game: Tuesday, May 1, 7:05 at Nationals Park vs. the 2011 NL West Division Champion Arizona Diamonbacks. In Bryce Harper’s likely Washington debut, Jordan Zimmerman (1-1, 1.33) faces a yet-to-be-named Arizona pitcher. As of Sunday night, 11:00 p.m., plenty of good seats to see Harper and The Hitless Wonders are still available.