With the All Star break over, the Nats took the field Friday looking to start the second half of the season on a high note. The team came in well-rested, with only Tyler Clippard having represented the Nats in the Midsummer Classic. The Brewers came to town to kick off a three game set, led by Kyle Lohse. The Nationals matched up on the mound with Stephen Strasburg, who was looking to build off of his last two starts in which he pitched well but was the victim of some bad luck.
The old narrative on Strasburg was that he struggled early in games, giving up runs before he could settle into a groove, but of late, that hadn’t been the case. He was pitching strong at the outset and allowing more hits as he wore slowly down in the middle innings. Unfortunately, Strasburg reverted to his old form against the Brewers. Two hitters into the game, Scooter Gennett launched a ball into the right field stands for a 1-0 Brewer lead. Khris Davis replicated the act in the top of the second to double the Nationals’ deficit.
After the Nationals squandered a prime opportunity in the home half of the second, Strasburg’s struggles resumed. With two outs in the third, he walked Gennett and allowed a double to Ryan Braun. A bloop single from Aramis Ramirez drove in both baserunners, and the Brewers led 4-0. The Nationals threatened to return the favor in the home half of the third, placing runners at the corners with two outs, but Adam LaRoche flied out to center and squandered the opportunity.
The Nationals finally managed to get on the board in the bottom of the fourth. Ryan Zimmerman doubled into right field. Ian Desmond drove him home with a single, then advanced to second on Carlos Gomez’s second error of the game. Sadly, that would be the only run the Nationals would manage until the bottom of the ninth, when Bryce Harper blasted a solo shot into the right field stands.
Strasburg finally managed to right himself after that. He settled in and worked through four more innings without giving up another run. Drew Storen came on in relief and worked through a scoreless eighth, only allowing a single walk between a strikeout, a groundout, and a flyout. In the ninth, Craig Stammen did his part as well, surrendering a hit but not allowing any further damage.
In this situation, it’s easy to heap all of the blame on Strasburg, who finished with a line of 7 IP, with 4 earned runs on 7 hits and a walk, with 9 strikeouts. But as any of the Nationals starters (Jordan Zimmermann in particular) will tell you, it’s hard to look good when your offense provides only a single run of support. During the game, the Nationals managed to pile up nothing more than hits against Kyle Lohse, failing to convert their opportunities into runs.
If there’s an upside here, it’s Denard Span and Bryce Harper. Span went 3-for-4, doing his job as a leadoff man and even stealing a base, though he was the victim of a couple of baserunning miscues, including an odd interference call in the first. Harper, with his new batting stance, went 3-for-4 as well, including a monster shot late in the game.
Hopefully the Nationals can build off of this game. If Span and Harper can continue their success and the team continues to pile up hits, it’s only a matter of time until they turn that into runs. And with Strasburg and the rest of the staff pitching well, the Nationals could have a powerful mix that could push them into the postseason.