The impulse after Thursday’s loss is, of course, to blame the umpires and the questionable fair call on Cameron Maybin‘s hit that allowed Pedro Ciriaco to score the game-winning run. It was a borderline call at best, and the fact that it ended the game will only serve to magnify the call’s scrutiny.
But none of that changes the larger point: The Washington Nationals shouldn’t have put themselves in that position in the first place.
Once again, Max Scherzer was as good as ever: five hits, nine strikeouts, no walks. A measly two runs. For Scherzer, that performance counts as borderline subpar. For most pitchers, it’s more than a quality start. And by anyone’s standards, it should’ve been enough to win.
For the second night in a row, Washington’s real problem was its lack of offensive production. The only run came in the top of the seventh after Cameron Maybin dropped a line drive from Bryce Harper, and Wilson Ramos managed to sneak a ball through the infield to bring in a run. Apart from that, the Nats managed only three hits.
The source of the Nats struggles on this night: Manny Banuelos, a pitcher making his major league debut after confounding hitters in AAA so far in 2015. In 15 starts in Gwinett, Banuelos posted a 6-2 record with a 2.29 ERA and a 1.222 WHIP. He pitched up to those standards on Thursday, holding the Nats scoreless on just two hits over 5.2 innings before he left the game with an apparent injury. His offspeed pitches kept the Nats guessing to the tune of seven strikeouts.
There’s something to be said for the fact that the Nats were the first team to face Banuelos. A rookie pitcher in his major league debut carries challenges of a different sort for opposing hitters. There’s usually not as much information or film readily available on these pitchers, which means there’s a lot more guesswork involved at the plate.
With that being said, the Nationals have to do a better job of generating offense. They failed to draw so much as a single walk, and four of the position players failed to get a hit. Denard Span‘s stolen bases are a start, but the team cannot continue to rely on the power of Bryce Harper and immaculate performances from their pitching staff.
So far this season, the Nats have been streaky when it comes to scoring runs. They’ve run cold to hot and back to cold again. This may just be a bump in the road, a combination of bad luck, missing pieces (Ian Desmond was out of the lineup as he attempts to fix his swing mechanics), and the mystery of an unknown pitcher.
But regardless of the circumstances, the Nationals cannot waste good performances from their pitching staff. These sorts of failures only help to put you in situations where a questionable call can snatch the game away from you.
And once the postseason rolls around, that is unacceptable.