Schwarber gets hurt, Nats get swept
After the pivotal role he played in the Nationals' big rebound last month, the loss of Kyle Schwarber in the lineup has had a huge effect on the Nats's fortunes during the early part of this month. In the opening game of the four-game series against the Dodgers in Washington on Thursday July 1st, Schwarber once again ignited the offense with a first-inning leadoff double, but the run he soon scored was one of only two for the Nats that day. Patrick Corbin did very well as pitcher until the fifth inning, when the Dodgers scored five runs. Final score: 6-2. On Friday Max Scherzer took the mound and once again lived up to his All-Star caliber standards. (For some incomprehensible reason, however, he was not selected for the 2021 All-Star Game.) He struck out eight and only gave up one run over six innings, but the bullpen immediately crumpled in the seventh inning, as the Dodgers scored nine (9) runs. Argh!!! Final score: 10-5.
The worst part of that game, however, was that Kyle Schwarber pulled a hamstring while rounding first base, and immediately left the game. He was put on the ten-day Injured List, so he might be back soon after the All-Star break. Such injuries are often dicey, however, and we won't really know his status for at least another week.
On Saturday, Josh Harrison filled in as leadoff batter and left fielder, while the Nats acquired Alcides Escobar from the Kansas City Royals. (Escobar has taken Harrison's place at second base.) Paolo Espino was having an OK night pitching until a lengthy rain delay in the fifth inning put an end to his evening on the mound. The Dodgers scored a couple runs in the latter innings and won that one too, 5-3. On Sunday, the Fourth of July (game time 11:05 AM!), the Nats took a 1-0 lead in the third inning thanks to Starlin Castro's RBI single, but the Dodgers came right back to tie it. Starting pitcher Joe Ross was having one of his best games of the year, striking out eleven batters over six-plus innings, but then he gave up an RBI single to aging superstar Albert Pujols, and that proved to be all the Dodgers needed. They won the game 5-1, thereby completing a four-game sweep of the home team on a quite disappointing Independence Day in D.C.
Nats get thwarted in San Diego
Then the Nationals headed to the west coast to face the San Diego Padres in another grueling four-game series with a highly competitive team. Thanks to the acquisitions of infielder Manny Machado and pitcher Yu Darvish, the Padres have been highly competitive in the National League West Division this year. They even held first place for a while earlier in the season, but have slumped a little recently. On Monday Jon Lester only lasted into the fourth inning as pitcher for the Nats, but home runs by Trea Turner (back from a short stint on the IL) and Josh Bell proved to be the decisive edge in the Nats' 7-5 victory. On Tuesday Erick Fedde had a mediocre day on the mound, giving up six runs in less than five innings. As a starting pitcher, he has sometimes been excellent and sometimes not this year. In spite of homers by Josh Harrison and Juan Soto, the Padres won that game, 7-4. On Wednesday Patrick Corbin was dominant for seven innings, only allowing two runs to the home team. Juan Soto homered again, while "the two Joshes" (Bell and Harrison) had three hits apiece in the offensive eruption. Final score: Nats 15, Padres 5.
Last night (Thursday) started out great for the Nationals, and thanks in part to Trea Turner's two home runs, they had an 8-0 lead going into the bottom of the fourth inning. That's when Fernando Tatis Jr. put his team on the board with a leadoff home run. That apparently rattled the Nats' pitcher Max Scherzer, who proceeded to hit two of the next four batters, while another one hit a single. Nerves began [to] tighten across Nats Land when he walked in a run with the bases loaded, but since the next batter was a backup pitcher who had just been called up from the minor leagues, what's the worst that could happen? You guessed correctly, a #&@$%! grand slam! The batter, Daniel Camarena, had never even gotten a hit in the major leagues before, and Max Scherzer had never given up a home run to the opposing pitcher throughout his entire career. So, you might say it was an unlikely event. The pitch he hit was a bit low and inside, reminding me of when Howie Kendrick hit such a pitch for a home run to give the Nats the lead in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series. How Camarena connected with that pitch is a mystery. The score was now 8-6, and all depended on whether Scherzer would compose himself and get out of the inning with the (shrunken) lead intact. He did not. The next batter, Tommy Pham, doubled, and Max was replaced by Kyle Finnegan, who gave up an RBI single to Tatis, and the margin was now only one run. Two innings later, Pham doubled again, driving in the tying run. The Nats failed to score any runs in the latter innings, and in the bottom of the ninth, relief pitcher Sam Clay (who was culpable in the fourth-inning debacle in the July 2nd game), gave up a walk and two hits, including the game-winning single hit by Trent Grisham. The Padres won it 9-8 after being behind 8-0 in the middle of the fourth inning. It was one of the worst collapses in Nationals' history, ruining what could have been an uplifting series win against a very good team. Instead, the Nats and Padres split the series two games apiece.
As a result, the Nats fell into a tie for third place, and facing the division-leading Giants in San Francisco tonight, things are not looking much better...