They came home one week ago, flying high after a 7-2 trip through California, and then, despite the lack of an off-day to recuperate, blew out the Orioles in a makeup game.
What wasn’t there to like about the Nationals at that moment?
All along, though, Dusty Baker knew this was going to be an especially difficult stretch of the season for his team. Because of that makeup game, the Nationals found themselves needing to play 20 games in 20 days, never a manager’s preference.
So Baker couldn’t be totally surprised by what transpired over the last six days: Five losses, culminating with today’s 13-2 drubbing at the hands of the Braves.
“We were playing so well on the West Coast,” he said. “And then we came home and then ... we didn’t play well at home, you know, defensively, pitching. We hit the ball pretty good most days, and it was a tough homestead. This is not the type of homestead you want to exhibit in front of your home fans.”
A crowd of 36,217 that withstood a pregame shower and then a 3-hour, 17-minute slog of a ballgame booed more than once during today’s proceedings. The Nationals provided ample opportunity for it.
It began with Tanner Roark laboring through another difficult start: seven runs and nine hits in five innings. After an impressive upturn in which he seemed to solve the problems that plagued him earlier in the season, Roark now finds himself again searching for answers after back-to-back poor starts.
If there’s any consolation to the situation, the right-hander suggested after today’s game he thinks he has figured out the root of the current problem.
“Extending, getting closer to the plate, really,” he said. “I think that’s my main issue. I looked at some video, and it just so happened to be that it was a little thing like that. And most of the time, baseball plays tricks on you, and that was the little thing.”
Roark, whose ERA now stands at a hefty 4.39 after 14 starts, has seemed to need to make more adjustments (even if mostly minor ones) during a season that has born little resemblance to his 16-win campaign of 2016.
“I’ve pitched for a long time,” he said. “Not saying I have anything figured out by any means, but I know myself pretty well. And (the need for more arm extension) was my main issue. And I was obviously struggling to find some things earlier on in the year, and all year, basically. But I feel like that’s the biggest thing, the extension.”
Roark’s struggles today might not have been so damaging, except for two facts: The Nationals offense, so potent throughout the season, managed only two runs off Julio Teheran, and the Nationals bullpen, such a problem area all season, compounded matters by giving up six runs in the top of the seventh.
There was a slight caveat to that last matter, though. Baker tried to squeeze more out of Trevor Gott and Blake Treinen than he would have liked, trying to save as many of his best available relievers for this weekend’s four-game series against the Mets.
To wit: After tossing a scoreless sixth inning, Gott returned for the seventh and proceeded to give up five runs before departing with his pitch count at a whopping 52.
“We just had to stay with him longer than we wanted to, because we were about bullpen preservation most of the day,” Baker said. “We have a big series coming up, you know, against the Mets. And you certainly don’t want to go in there with your whole bullpen tired and beat up. So after a while, we just tried to preserve our bullpen for this next seven games as much as we can.”