Remember how things were just six short days ago? Remember how the Washington Nationals were riding a five-game winning streak and had trimmed their NL East deficit to just four games? Remember when—for the first time since May—the words ‘pennant race’ and ‘playoffs’ seemed like realistic possibilities instead of naïve fantasies? Oh, how quickly things have changed.
Ever since their 8-4 victory over the Braves on Sept. 6 gave the team and its fans a little bit of hope for the future of the season, the team has managed to choke all that hope and momentum away. The Nationals have lost five in a row, including three to the first-place New York Mets and two to the lowly Miami Marlins.
In a way, nothing really ‘changed’ over the last week. It was unrealistic to expect the Nationals to continue to play at an elite level, especially when four of the wins during the winning streak came against the even-more-lowly Atlanta Braves.
Indeed, the Nationals haven’t done anything shocking over the last week, they’ve simply regressed to the norm: a team brimming with talent and potential that can’t seem to put it all together on the field; a team that dooms itself with gross inconsistency in all facets of the game on a nightly basis; a team that was once expected to ride a World Series parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, but now can’t wait to pack up and head home for what promises to be a long, cold Winter.
Last night’s loss to the Marlins was just the latest in a string of disappointing nights for the Nationals.
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The Marlins shutout the Nationals, and Washington managed just three hits all night long. Seven batters in the starting lineup went hitless yesterday, and the lineup struck out a whopping 13 times. Fittingly, the only players who recorded hits in yesterday’s game for the Nationals were Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa—the lone consistent bright spots on a roster filled to the brim with injuries and down years from some of the team’s most important players.
Of course, things weren’t all bad last night. Tanner Roark gave up just two runs, and the Nationals’ often-mediocre bullpen held the Marlins scoreless for 3 1/3 innings. But the Nationals are struggling, and they’ve been struggling for a long time. When a team struggles and seemingly loses all spirit and motivation to play, overcoming a two-run deficit can seem all but impossible.
It also didn’t help that the Nationals were facing Jose Fernandez, one of the best pitchers on the planet. Fernandez had been a non-factor all year long as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. Of course, the slumping Nationals had the honor of facing him in his first start back from the disabled list. Go figure.
The Nationals will be back on the field this afternoon, trying, hoping to finally snap put of their skid. The team will have Max Scherzer on the mound, their $210 million ace who was supposed to be the one holding the Commissioner’s Trophy as the team paraded down the streets of Washington in November.
For Scherzer, a once dazzling season has taken a turn for the worse in the second half. Maybe Scherzer will return to his first-half dominance today. Maybe the Nationals’ inconsistent offense will put up 12 runs to salvage a win over the Marlins. Maybe they’ll lose again. At this point, it doesn’t really matter. The team hit rock bottom weeks ago, and they’ve been hitting new lows ever since.
That’s just the way things have gone this year for the Nationals.