One reason for the Nationals’ four-game losing streak is the bullpen’s inability to hold the game at one or two runs.
In every one of the four games the Nationals have lost since Wednesday, relievers have allowed at least one run.
On Thursday, the Braves scored three runs in the ninth to extend a 2-1 lead to 5-1. Atlanta won the game by that score.
On Friday, the Phillies tallied a crucial run in the eighth after the Nats had pulled with 3-2 on a Tyler Moore two-run homer just an inning prior. The Phillies won the game 4-2.
On Saturday, the Phillies again scored a run in almost a carbon copy of Friday. Leading 3-2, they plated an eighth-inning run on a sacrifice fly and went up 4-2.
On Sunday, the Phillies led 3-0 in the sixth when former National Laynce Nix crushed a Tom Gorzelanny pitch for a 4-0 lead.
Since the 13-inning marathon to begin their series against the Braves last Monday, in which every member of the bullpen pitched and kept Atlanta off the board, the relievers have struggled to maintain that same consistency.
Part of the problem has been difficulty holding runners on first or second. The Braves used a wild pitch and a stolen base to help in their three-run outburst in the ninth on Thursday. The Phillies’ Chase Utley stole bases in the eighth inning on consecutive nights and Jimmy Rollins stole one which put undue pressure on the pitchers. Juan Pierre notched a stolen base in the second Sunday against Jesus Flores.
Sean Burnett talked how upset he was about not holding runners on base Saturday. It is definitely a problem the pitching staff is concerned enough about to keep a watchful eye on.
Kurt Suzuki and Flores can throw runners out, but they also need the pitchers to hold runners and keep them from getting big leads.
But the bigger question is: Will the Nationals’ bullpen be able to stand up against the Phillies and Braves bullpens, not to mention the Dodgers and Cardinals staffs that arrive in September?
The relievers have done a huge job this season of bridging from the starters to the late innings. It has been a concern the last four losses when they have allowed a total of six runs after the sixth inning.
The bullpen must improve to give the offense a chance to score a run in the late innings to tie games, instead of having to score two or three times. They have done it all year, no reason they can’t do it again now.