Tonight’s loss was just one terrible loss in a string of six terrible losses. The offense sputtered again, producing two hits and no runs through eight innings in support of Stephen Strasburg‘s best start of the season. He was incredible, striking out twelve while walking none and giving up just two hits. Unfortunately, one of those hits was a home run, but even so, the game was within reach at 1-0 heading into the ninth. In the top of the ninth, Drew Storen gave up three earned runs to put the game out of reach, and rendering Jayson Werth‘s two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth useless. The offense got three hits and two runs in the ninth, but the night ended when Laz Diaz missed a call, incorrectly saying Wilson Ramos was tagged on his way to second while Denard Span was thrown out at first. Even with the blown call, the Nats did not stand a great chance of scoring, but the call is the cherry on top of the awful sundae that this game and this week have been. The Nats are five games under .500 and nine behind the Braves after losing their sixth straight. Chad Tracy, Steve Lombardozzi, and Roger Bernadina are all in the bottom 15 in the NL in wOBA for players with at least 90 plate appearances. The offense has scored more than two runs once during this putrid streak. Buying at the trade deadline now seems like a desperate reach, as opposed to a prudent move. The Nats won’t be doing much for the rest of this season, but should stand pat and focus on getting ready for 2014. That means cutting the entire bench (except Scott Hairston) and giving time to younger players like Jeff Kobernus, Chris Marrero, Corey Brown, Carlos Rivero, and Eury Perez.
Most Important Nationals Hit: Steve Lombardozzi’s single (+9.8%)
As bad of a hitter as he may be, he still managed a hit tonight. His single led off the bottom of the eighth against Francisco Liriano, and was so impactful given the lateness of the game and the narrowness of the Nats’ deficit. However, the Nats would leave him cold and alone on the bases. A sac bunt moved him to second, but the next two Nats made outs to end the inning and make the Nats six for their last 81 with runners in scoring position.
Most Important Nationals Pitch: Pedro Alvarez‘s solo home run (-11.2%)
This pitch was the lone mistake Strasburg made all night, and I hesitate to even call it a mistake. Alvarez hit a powerful line drive on a low 96 MPH fast ball that looked like it was never more than 30 or so feet above the ground. It simply kept traveling until it went out about 20 feet above field level. Strasburg allowed another hit one out later, but then proceeded to retire 20 of 21 Pirates, with the sole runner reaching on an error. Of course, he took the loss.
Champ of the Game: Strasburg’s (+20.8%) WPA does not reflect how incredible he was. His twelve strikeouts marked the fourth most in his career, and the two total baserunners and no walks make this one of the best starts of his career. Liriano (+46.3%) was as good, if not better. He recorded one fewer out, at 7.2 IP, and gave up the same number of hits but walked three batters and only struck out eight. In the end, the difference was that he did not allow a run.
Chump of the Game: Denard Span (-15.4%) was 0-4, including grounding into the game-ending not double play. WPA’s format bailed out Drew Storen, who was only around to see one of his runs score. Fernando Abad gave up the hit that scored the other two, but the runners were Storen’s. Andrew McCutchen (-5.6%) was a surprising 0-4, in sharp contrast to how hot he has been this series and against the Nats in general.