Against the worst, Nationals need to be at their best
The best way for the Washington Nationals to prevent their ascension from perpetual doormat to possible contender is to lose games like Tuesday night's against teams like the Astros. The Nats entered with a 7-3 record against teams with sub-.500 records. That's what good teams do -- compete with the good teams, thump the bad ones. Punish incompetence.
Last night, they could not take advantage of the Astros, no matter how hard the Astros tried. Even in winning, they showed why they have the worst record in the National League. They committed two errors as the Nationals erased a four-run deficit in the fourth. Leading by two in the eighth, Brandon Lyon loaded the bases and grazed Willie Harris with a pitch to push across a run.
And still, the Nationals could not beat the Astros. Their eighth-inning rally fizzled with strikeouts by Adam Kennedy and Cristian Guzman. The Nationals came through in the ninth, Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina each hitting singles to put them ahead. And the Nationals STILL could not close out the Astros, now 18-34. Matt Capps didn't allow an earned run in either appearance, but he was on the mound for each of the past two losses.
So now the Nationals are 7-4 against the league's bottom half. In a way, these next two games in Houston could hinge the Nationals season more than any other. I suppose that's hyperbolic, and maybe unfair given the Nationals will be playing their 19th and 20th road games in a span of 26 days. But this series presents an opportunity to augment their record against a really bad team, a chance that must be seized.
Boz brought up the importance of beating bad teams in a column last weekend. The Nationals stayed afloat with one of the league's toughest schedules -- 42 of their first 51 games came against teams currently .500 or better. It's not the end of the world if they lose to the Astros, but it's a heck of a missed opportunity.
Last night, the Nationals did overcome two deficits to nearly win. "We gave them a fight. We came back," Desmond said. "That says something about this ballclub. It might be a loss now, but in the end, this is all just putting us closer together, stronger as a team, all that kind of stuff. We lost tonight, but maybe we get the overall victory in the end."
Maybe Desmond is right. But the Nationals have reached the point at which, in a winnable game against a team playing as poorly as the Astros, they should not be settling for anything less for the actual victory.
FROM THE POST
A real treat today. Barry Svrluga looks back five years later at the 2005 Nationals and the magical streak they began right about now.
Barry also has a chart detailing the whereabouts of all the principles then and now. Over the next 10 days, Barry will be providing more 2005-centric content for the Journal, so look forward to that.
As for the last night, the Nationals thought they won before a check-swing call went against them and Lance Berkman delivered a walkoff single for an 8-7 Nationals loss that dropped them back below .500.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Buffalo 4, Syracuse 1: Colin Balester pitched one perfect relief inning and struck out one. In his first three relief appearances, Balester has retired all seven batters he's faced. Shairon Martis allowed three earned runs on seven hits and one walk in six innings.
Harrisburg 4, Richmond 1: Tom Milone allowed one run on five hits and a walk in 5 1/3 innings, striking out seven. Brad Coon and Michael Martinez went 2 for 4.
Winston-Salem 9, Potomac 1: Robert Jacobsen went 2 for 4 with a home run. Derek Norris went 0 for 2 with two walks.
Lakewood 8, Hagerstown 7 (14 innings) : J.R. Higley went 4 for 6 with a home run that sent the game into extra innings. J.P. Ramirez went 3 for 6 with a home run. Daniel Rosenbaum allowed one earned in 4 2/3 innings on five hits and no walks, striking out two.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Joe Posnanski says Bryce Harper is no sure thing, as history tells us.
Tom Verducci says the Nationals have to take him.
Scott Boras praises Tony Gwynn for his handling of Stephen Strasburg, Scott Miller writes.
The Nationals entered Tuesday with a rare statistical feat, Fire Jim Bowden points out.
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