Nats' slump continues in Arizona
The Washington Nationals' series in Arizona ended up exactly opposite of what had been expected: They won on the day when an emergency replacement pitcher was starting, and they lost on the days when two of their (usually) top-line pitchers were starting. After Joe Ross's disastrous outing against the L.A. Dodgers on July 27 (six earned runs over 4 2/3 innings in a 9-3 loss), his chances against the Arizona Diamondbacks last Friday seemed bleak. But somehow he rose to the challenge and only allowed one hit (and no runs) over 5 1/3 innings. The newly-reinforced Nats bullpen did not allow any further runs or hits, while Matt Adams hit a clutch 2-run single and Juan Soto hit a solo homer. Thus, the Nats won the series opener, 3-0. The Washington Post thinks Ross has earned a spot as the fifth man in the pitching rotation. With Max Scherzer still on the Injured List, that is of vital importance.
On Saturday, in contrast, Stephen Strasburg was pathetically ineffective, not at all the same guy who I saw pitch in Washington on July 28. The Nats scored twice in the first inning, but the Diamondbacks quickly tied it, and then they took a 3-2 lead in the second inning. The D-Backs kept piling on runs, and Strasburg was replaced before he could finish the fifth inning. in a desperation move, manager Dave Martinez had second baseman Gerardo Parra pitch in the eighth inning to save the precious, fragile arms in the bullpen. Parra gave up five runs without getting an out, after which Brian Dozier took the mound and soon gave up a home to Eduardo Escobar, his second of the night. Eventually Dozier got three outs. It was quite an embarrassment, and Anthony Rendon's three-run homer in the top of the ninth barely even mattered. Final score: D-Backs 18, Nats 7.
On Sunday, Patrick Corbin was pitching for the Nats, and somehow he could not get the job done. The Nats took a 2-0 lead in the second inning thanks to a two-run homer by Gerardo "Baby Shark" Parra, but the D-Backs came right back with three runs in the bottom of the inning. The Nats struggled to catch up and finally tied it 5-5 in the top of the sixth, and had the bases loaded with the pitcher up to bat. Much like in the game I saw a week earlier, when Stephen Strasburg hit a bases-loaded RBI single in the bottom of the sixth, I was amazed that Dave Martinez let Corbin bat rather than put in a pinch hitter. This time, it didn't work, as Corbin grounded into a force out to end the inning. Not only that (unlike Strasburg), he couldn't finish pitching the next half inning! It was a huge wasted opportunity that probably changed the outcome of the game, since Wander Suero (who relieved Corbin) gave up a two-run single. The score remained 7-5 until the end of the game.
Thus, as the Nats begin a three-game series against the Giants in San Francisco, they are are tied with the Phillies for second place in the NL East, seven games behind the Braves. For the first time since May 23 (when they hit "rock bottom"), the Nats have only won three of the past ten games. For the first time since May 8, moreover, they have lost three series in a row. Time will soon be a bitter enemy of the Nats, as each game becomes more and more essential to win.