To say that Stephen Strasburg struggled Friday night against the Braves would have been an understatement.
Justin Upton hit a two-run homer in the first. B.J. Upton hit a two-run homer in the second. And by the time the rain descended on Turner field, the Nationals had only just started digging out of the 7-0 hole that their starting pitcher had thrown them into. They continued their charge when the game resumed, but it wasn’t enough. Craig Kimbrel shut the door with a one-two-three ninth, and the Nationals’ bid for a monster comeback fell one run short.
It was hard to tell early on if Strasburg had his best stuff. He quickly retired the first two batters, but then a walk turned into an RBI. That in and of itself wasn’t disconcerting. After all, Strasburg’s woes have always tended to happen early on in games. If he could settle down for the second inning, he could still have a respectable night.
That wasn’t the case Friday. The second inning turned out worse than the first: two long balls, four more runs. The Braves had hung six runs on the scoreboard, and all of them coming with two out. The leadoff jack to Tommy La Stella to stretch the lead to 7-0 was just icing on the cake.
At that point, it would have been easy for the Nationals offense to pack it in and get ready for tomorrow night. After all, it wouldn’t have been the first time this season the bats had declined to show themselves.
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But, for whatever reason, the Nationals chose not to go quietly into the night. As Ervin Santana, who cruised through the first five frames, took the bump for the sixth, the offense surged to life.
Following a rain delay of 71 minutes, the Nationals wasted no time in getting back on the attack. Ross Detwiler handled the bottom of the sixth, then Wilson Ramos hammered a solo shot. Four batters later, Cabrera brought home Denard Span on a sacrifice fly, and the deficit was 7-6.
That was as close as the Nationals would get. The next seven hitters all failed to reach base (though Rendon had one incredibly hard out), and the Braves, who entered on an eight game losing streak, walked out one game closer to the division lead.
Friday night’s game was a disappointment on several levels, the most obvious being Strasburg and the fact that the team came up only one run short of an epic comeback. But the biggest disappointment is the one that the Nationals have been struggling with for so long: their disappointment with the Braves.
With Atlanta on the ropes and the chance to put some distance between themselves and their division rivals at hand, the Nationals just couldn’t get the job done. It was the same old story, the same old song and dance.
If the Nationals want to win the NL East, they had better come to the ballpark tomorrow ready to sing a different tune.
Other notes: Steven Souza got the start in right field; he left in the bottom of the third after colliding with the wall. Bryce Harper took over for him in right, with Kevin Frandsen coming in to play left field. Strasburg’s final line in this debacle: 5 IP, 7 ER, 2 walks, 9 Ks… and 4 home runs. Tomorrow, Tanner Roark (11-7) will face off against Aaron Harang (9-6).