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Why does it feel like the bottom's about to fall out?

Weren't the Braves the reeling team when the Nationals came to town? They were a .500 team that had lost five straight, shut out in four of them. Didn't last week's complete collapse against the Tigers occur for one reason and one reason only - the Tigers? Except a similar thing just happened in Atlanta.

Not much to digest as we wait for Delta 418 back to DCA (one-night stop-over to see Mrs. Nationals Journal before heading to Pittsburgh tomorrow). Some folks in the chat yesterday picked up on this theme, though: The Nationals have held it together for so long - still 23-21 since May 11, a far longer stretch of .500 ball than I thought they'd be able to pull off at the beginning of the season, much less as they lost all those pitchers.

Here, though, are the rotation's numbers the last two times through:

6/27 at Atlanta - Bowie, 3-1/3 innings, 6 earned runs
6/26 at Atlanta - Bacsik, 6 IP, 5 ER
6/25 at Atlanta - Bergmann, 4 IP, 1 ER
6/24 vs. Cleveland - Simontacchi, 6 IP, 1 ER
6/23 vs. Cleveland - Chico, 6 IP, 1 ER
6/22 vs. Cleveland - Bowie, 4-1/3, 1 ER
6/20 vs. Detroit - Bacsik, 5 IP, 3 ER
6/19 vs. Detroit - Simontacchi, 3 IP, 10 ER
6/18 vs. Detroit - Chico, 4 IP, 8 ER

That's a 7.76 ERA. Yes, you could argue it's skewed by that Tigers' series. Yes, you could point out that there was one four-game stretch where the starters didn't give up more than one earned run. But these aren't innings-eating, save-the-bullpen starts. They're hold-it-together-for-five-innings-and-keep-us-in-the-game exercises.

So as well as these guys have done to hold it all together over the last six weeks - and again, no one could have expected they would - it feels like it's held together with glue and duct tape because it is. The Nationals' bullpen has thrown more innings - 286 - than any in baseball. That's precisely 3-2/3 innings a game. Quick, do the math. The starters have thrown 411-1/3 innings, fewest in the National League and second-least in baseball. That's less than 5-1/3 innings per game.

But why does it feel like it's on the precipice of crumbling? Try the offense.

Since sweeping the Orioles in Baltimore June 12-14, the Nationals have lost nine of 12, including the sweeps to Atlanta and Detroit. During that time, they have averaged 2.9 runs per game, scoring more than four only once.

During that stretch, the Nationals are last in the N.L. in runs scored, last in homers (an anemic five in 12 games), 14th in slugging percentage (.372), last in on-base percentage (.293).

"I'm not going to complain now," Manny Acta said last night. The point: His team has been last in all those categories (or next-to-last) all season. They're now 14th in batting average (.249) but last in runs scored, slugging (.366) and OBP (.312).

Turns out it's tough to win games when you're not pitching AND you're not hitting. Who knew?

I don't have a heck of a lot more for you. The gruesome gamer - which touches on all these themes - is here. The notebook addresses a very unusual leadoff platoon. Thanks for a lively chat yesterday, and here's the podcast.

I'll let you know if there's any news during the day. Otherwise, I'll likely check in with you from Pittsburgh.


By Barry Svrluga  |  June 28, 2007; 9:02 AM ET
 
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Next: The 2007 All-Stars Against The Nationals

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