The Washington Nationals entered Citi Field on Friday night with a chance to get back on track, to assert themselves as the rightful leaders of the division, and to put some distance between them and the second place Mets. They left on Sunday night having accomplished none of those things. After Sunday’s 5-2 debacle, they sit tied for the lead in a division that most people predicted them to run away with at the start of the season.
In what was the season’s most important series to date, the Mets played like they wanted it more, while the Nats came out flat. To put it simply: the Nationals should be embarrassed by this series.
Sunday’s game felt all too similar to Friday and Saturday’s games. The offense, now with Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, and Jayson Werth back in the lineup, continued to stall. Except for solo home runs by Rendon and Yunel Escobar, the Washington offense was nonexistent. For the third time in the series (and fourth time in a row), the Nats scored two runs or less.
No matter how good your pitching is, you won’t win many games like that.
The fact is that almost no one in the lineup seems capable of hitting. Michael Taylor, who looked as if he was finally starting to find a groove at the plate, has suddenly gone cold. Jayson Werth is hovering just above the Mendoza line. Ian Desmond is hitting .216 for the season.
To top it all off, Bryce Harper, whose offensive explosion in the first half helped carry the team, is now battling. Since his average hit a peak of .347 on July 5, Harper’s numbers have slowly fallen over the course of the last month. Even the return of Rendon’s bat isn’t enough to remedy the offense when the Nationals’ best hitter goes cold.
With the Nationals unable to score runs, Jordan Zimmermann‘s third inning meltdown seems like an afterthought. No matter how good your starting pitching is, what good does it do you if you can only muster a minimal amount of offense? How impactful can the trio of Janssen–Storen–Papelbon be if you can’t get the ball to them in the late innings with a lead?
There’s an argument to be made that the Nationals have run a real gauntlet of starting pitching the last few weeks, and that’s true. The last 15 starters they’ve faced have an ERA of 2.27. That’s crazy. It’s also reason to think that the Nationals could get hot if they get more favorable matchups.
That’s all well and good for the regular season, but what sort of confidence does that inspire if (that’s right – if) this team makes the playoffs? What evidence is there to support anything other than another showing like what occurred over the past three days in New York? Right now, the offense looks completely incapable of doing anything against the most capable pitchers, which seems eerily reminiscent of last year’s NLDS.
Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. At this point, it’s fair to start worrying about whether this team will even get a Wild Card spot.
There are some reasons to cling to hope, though. The Nationals have played the second fewest home games to this point in the season, so they’ll be within the friendly confines of Nats Park a lot more often down the stretch. The Mets, on the other hand, will have the second most road games on their remaining schedule. The Nats are 28-19 at home, while the Mets are 17-32 on the road.
There’s also the hope that Denard Span‘s return and a little more playing time do wonders for Jayson Werth. Hopefully Bryce Harper finds his way back to early season form. And hopefully the offense begins to hang more than two runs per night on opposing pitching.
Otherwise, the Nationals may look back on this series at Citi Field as the beginning of their downfall.