Behind another strong outing from Stephen Strasburg and a powerful display from their offense, the Nationals looked like they were ready to end their losing streak against the Phillies. But sloppy defensive play and another blown save from Rafael Soriano allowed the visiting Phils to sneak out of Nationals Park with the win instead.
Stephen Strasburg came in hoping to build off a strong performance against the Mariners in which he pitched 7.2 innings with only a single earned run. He looked every bit as dominant early, cruising through the first two innings and not allowing a run through the first five.
Meanwhile, the offense piled up runs early. Adam LaRoche cranked a two-run homer in the first to give the Nats a lead. Wilson Ramos added another in the fourth with a sacrifice fly that scored Ian Desmond. In the fifth, Nationals MVP candidate Anthony Rendon plated Strasburg and Span with a double, pushing the lead to 5-0.
Even when the Phillies managed some semblance of an offense, like Ben Revere’s RBI double in the sixth and Ryan Howard’s solo homer off of Xavier Cedeno in the seventh, the Nationals responded. Jayson Werth drove in Span on a ground rule double, and LaRoche brought in Rendon with a sac fly. Through seven, the Nationals still held a five run lead.
Aaron Barrett appeared to pitch the eighth, and the first signs of real worry started to appear. Barrett fared poorly, and by the time Matt Thornton had successfully pulled the team out of the inning, two runs (both unearned) had been pushed across and the Nationals’ five run lead had been whittled down to three.
When the Nats failed to manage any further offense in the ninth, the game became a save situation. It was then that Rafael Soriano entered the game, and it was then that the wheels fell off.
As Soriano is wont to do, he quickly allowed the first hitter he faced, Domonic Brown, to reach base with a single. The next hitter immediately brought him home with a ball that was belted straight into the seats in left. The lead was one, and Tyler Clippard was quickly up in the bullpen to throw.
Soriano settled down and, for a moment, looked as if he might escape with another shaky save as he managed to record two outs. All that fell apart when Ben Revere stepped to the plate. Revere’s second home run of the season tied the game, chased Soriano, and brought out the “boo birds” in the stands.
The Nationals wasted two baserunners in the home half of the tenth. In the next half inning, they quickly helped put themselves away. Bryce Harper, either not hearing or ignoring Denard Span’s calls for the ball, allowed the leadoff hitter for the Phillies to reach. A sac bunt and a fielder’s choice (one in which an out wasn’t recorded) later, the Phils held the lead. They added another run two batters later.
The best that could be said for Washington was that they didn’t go down without a fight. They managed a run in the eleventh and even had the tying run on second, but a strikeout by Ian Desmond and a lineout by Harper on a well-hit ball ended their shot at a comeback of their own.
The defense will (rightfully) get some of the blame. Rendon missed a simple grounder at third in the eighth, and Harper’s collision with Span helped earn Craig Stammen an undeserved loss. But the real story of the game is the Nationals closer, or complete lack thereof.
Since the All Star break, Soriano has been completely unreliable, sporting an ERA of 6.98 with five blown saves. Matt Williams may want to support his players, but at this point, he can’t afford to keep trotting Soriano out there with the game on the line. Soriano looks little better than a garbage time pitcher; he doesn’t deserve to hold the closer role on a team with lofty playoff expectations.
The Nationals lost the game with a series of blunders and mishaps. The only thing they gained was the knowledge that if they want to reach their goals, Soriano must be relieved of his duties as a reliever.
Notes: Denard Span’s leadoff single in the first was his 1,000th career hit. The final line on Strasburg: 6 IP, 4 hits, 1 earned run, 5 Ks.