As poorly as Dan Haren pitched over the first half of the season, that’s how well he has done in the second half. Looking to avoid a second straight loss to the New York Mets on Saturday night, the Washington Nationals needed second-half Haren to continue his solid run — but the end result looked a lot more like first-half Haren.
Haren gave up nine hits in only 2 2/3 innings of work at Nationals Park, and Washington couldn’t keep up, dropping an 11-3 decision to New York to ensure a losing series and, more importantly, drop Washington 7 1/2 games behind the Cincinnati Reds for the National League’s final wild card playoff spot.
It was the kind of game the Nationals couldn’t lose if they wanted to re-establish themselves as contenders, however improbably, for the post-season again this year. But inconsistency has been a hallmark of the 2013 Nationals, and after looking so much more solid against the Cubs, Royals and Marlins in the series’ leading up to this one, Washington stumbled for the second straight night against the Mets, this time watching New York’s lineup — which featured seven starters that have spent some time at AAA Las Vegas this season — rack up 17 hits against Haren and four Washington relievers.
Unlike the earlier troubles Haren had, mostly stemming from serving up home runs, this one wasn’t quite so egregious. Haren even said afterwards, to Tom Schad of MLB.com, “Stuff was good. I tell you guys honestly if I had good or bad stuff that day. My stuff was fine. It wasn’t that. Balls fell in.”
That they did. The third inning was Haren’s undoing, already behind 2-0 after an Omar Quintanilla double in the second. Six of the seven batters Haren faced in the inning singled, with outs coming on a sacrifice fly and a gassing of Josh Satin at the plate by Jayson Werth. Still, after Matt den Dekker‘s first major league hit made it 5-0 Metropolitans, Haren’s day was done. An uncharacteristically shaky Tanner Roark walked two and gave up another hit before finally bringing the inning to a close, but at 8-0 — and given how the Nationals have dealt with deficits this season — this one was pretty much over.
The beneficiary of all this offense for the Mets was Zack Wheeler, who had been roughed up by the Nationals the first time he faced them at Citi Field earlier in the summer. There was no such roughage this time, as the rookie appeared to have quit overthrowing and started trusting his stuff. Wheeler stifled the Nats until the sixth inning, when Washington finally put together a small rally.
The Nationals loaded the bases with one out for Werth, who lofted a sacrifice fly to break the duck on the evening, and Ian Desmond followed with an RBI single to score Denard Span, who collected three hits on the night and extended his career-best hitting streak to 14 games. But Ryan Mattheus gave those runs back with a little insurance in the eighth, surrendering four more hits for three runs.
Eric Young, Daniel Murphy and Juan Lagares all had three hits each for the Mets, who will be going for the sweep of the Nats on Sunday Night Baseball. Ross Ohlendorf (3-0, 2.49 ERA) will take the hill for Washington against New York lefty Jon Niese (6-6, 3.69).