Moving in the wrong direction

Stephen Strasburg has had shortened outings due to injury reasons. That kind of stuff can happen to any pitcher.

You don't expect to see Strasburg leaving games after two innings when he's completely healthy. That kind of stuff also can, of course, happen to any pitcher.

It's just surprising to see it happen to Strasburg.

Strasburg's ERA jumped from 2.45 to 2.99 yesterday thanks to a two-inning, seven-run performance.

He'd dominated the Marlins in 10 previous starts in his career, pitching to a 2.77 ERA against them. Last night, he had a 31.50 ERA.

The Nationals are currently six games back of the Braves in the National League East. They're five games back of the Reds in the chase for the final Wild Card spot.

They need top-notch pitching performances from Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, especially with the offense being as inconsistent as it has been all season.

Dan Haren has been shaky. Ross Detwiler is on the disabled list. Taylor Jordan can't get a break, even when he pitches well.

It's not fair to have so much pressure riding on three starting pitchers, but that's where the Nationals are at this point. They can't rely on their offense to bail them out when one of their top three starters has a rough game. They can't rely on the back of their rotation to pick up the slack when the Nos. 1-3 guys don't get the job done.

The Nationals will now head into the All-Star break with two more games against a Marlins team that has gone 21-17 in their last 38 games. The Nats, for what it's worth, are 19-19 in their last 38 contests.

In these two games, the Nats will send Haren and Jordan to the mound. They won't get the benefit of following Strasburg's poor performance with Zimmermann. They don't have the option of giving the ball to Gonzalez and asking him to get things back on track.

The Nationals have lost four of their last five games, and to avoid things spiraling even more, they need the bottom two guys in their rotation to step up in a big way.

Every game, at this point, is crucial. When you're six games back in the division with 69 games remaining, you need to be chipping away at the deficit and starting to play your best ball.

You can't be getting pushed around by the team with the worst record in the major leagues, even if that team is playing better ball of late.

After what seemed like a momentum-building homestand in which they went 5-2, the Nats have only started digging themselves a bigger hole. They had hoped to finish the first half strong in Miami, taking the series and then enjoying the benefits of a few days of rest before coming back and making a push for the playoffs.

They'll need two big wins from their bottom two starters in order for that to happen.

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