The term “rock bottom” has been tossed around a lot this year. However, it might never be more apt than it is for the team right now.
Jordan Zimmermann made the worst start of his career, allowing seven runs in just two innings, putting the Nats in a huge hole from which their offense could not escape against Clayton Kershaw, and the Nationals (48-50) fell two games below .500 for the third time this season, losing 9-2.
The matchup between Zimmermann and MLB ERA leader Kershaw was billed as a pitchers’ duel, but the Dodgers quickly put that notion to rest. Zimmermann gave up two singles in the first, but escaped without allowing a run. In the second, the wheels came off in a massive way. The inning went as follows: home run (1-0), single, double, RBI groundout (2-0), RBI single (3-0), walk, K, home run (6-0), walk, RBI double (7-0), lineout. If you’ll note, that’s 11 batters just that inning, in which the Dodgers scored two more runs than the Nats did over the entire series. To win, the Nationals would have needed at least eight runs, a total they had not met in two weeks.
Zimmermann looked simply awful, with his command completely lacking, leading some to be concerned about his health. After the game, he dispelled those concerns. Thanks to the All-Star break, his neck felt “awesome” but he also blamed the time off for making him feel a bit rusty. Regardless of today’s terrible outing, it appears Zimmermann’s long-term condition is good. After Zimmermann exited, Ross Ohlendorf did an excellent job in long relief. He allowed two runs on six hits and a walk in six relief innings, which is as much as can be expected from any long man.
To add insult to injury, the offense scuffled once again. As the first batter after the Dodgers took their monster lead, Werth attempted to turn the team around all by himself, hitting a solo home run off Kershaw to cut the lead to six. He homered again in the seventh, accounting for the only two baserunners the Nationals earned against Kershaw. Only one Nat spent time on base in the first seven innings: Adam LaRoche, who reached on an error in the fifth inning. Kurt Suzuki singled in the eighth, and Chad Tracy singled in the ninth, but neither hit was consequential at all.
After the sweep, many Nationals fans seemed to be coming to grips with the fact that this team had resoundingly failed to deliver on the early-season expectations. They are tied for the most games under .500 they’ve been all season, and are 2-8 since a 4-game winning streak. In his postgame comments, Davey Johnson had no answers. “I got confidence in [the hitters] so I don’t want to keep talking about the offense. It’s all we seem to talk about. That and the injuries.” In those few sentences, Davey seemingly dismissed the two problems that have most contributed to the Nats’ struggles this year. He reiterated his faith in the job every player is doing, but remarked that “the frustrating part” was “that it’s not all coming together in wins. Nobody hates losing more than me.”
Speaking more specifically, Davey pointed out many of the problems Nats fans have seen, such as the bench, the bullpen to an extent, and Dan Haren. But again, most notably, he offered no solutions. Given how far the team has fallen from 2012, and how helpless Davey seems, one has to wonder what his job security would be like if he had not declared his intent to retire at the end of the season. The most baffling of everything he said was one tossed-in remark: “I feel like we’re going to be fine.”
It’s great to see a manager have such faith in his guys, but only to a point. With all the problems he listed, and no solutions in sight, could the Nationals really be “fine”?
I hope so, Davey. I really do.
Note: Fangraphs is down, so there will be no Moments That Mattered for today’s game. Isn’t that for the best though?