Nats teetering on the brink after mistake-filled homestand

There were outs inexplicably made on the bases. There were home runs being served up despite pitchers being in advantageous counts. There were countless opportunities for long, sustained rallies, the kind of opportunities made possible when you draw 10 walks to the opposition’s one on the afternoon.

Consider all the reasons the Nationals should have won today’s game against the Rockies, not the least of which was the desperation they exhibited today trying to salvage a four-game series split and at least close a wretched homestand on a positive note before heading out on a daunting, nine-game road trip.

And then consider how they still managed to lose, this time by a count of 6-5, on a cold, windy, rainy afternoon that left everyone in the clubhouse in a sour mood.

“There’s so many reasons why this loss today is particularly frustrating,” closer Sean Doolittle said. “The fact that we are shorthanded. The fact that it was a rough homestand. The fact that we had a chance to even the series and salvage right there. Yeah, it’s ... that one hurts.”

Doolittle officially was charged with the loss, his 3-2 fastball over the plate to Ian Desmond with two outs in the top of the ninth clearing the center field wall and giving the former Nationals favorite a chance to circle the bases on South Capitol Street for the first time in three years.

But that was merely the final indignity during a 3-hour, 14-minute ballgame that was full of them. On the final day of a 3-7 homestand that was full of mistakes, missed opportunities and losses that didn’t need to be.

“It wasn’t good,” manager Davey Martinez said. “We should’ve won some more games. But you know what, the effort’s there. Guys are starting to swing the bats a little better. ... We’ve just got to keep pushing. We’re going to win games, I know that. We’ve just got to play. We’ve got to capitalize in big moments. We haven’t done that. And we’ve got to be able to put teams away early when it counts, not wait til late. We had opportunities to put this team away early today, and we couldn’t do it.”

No, they couldn’t. The Nationals took eight at-bats with runners in scoring position. They produced zero hits in those situations.

All of their runs today either via solo homer (Bryce Harper, Matt Wieters) or errant pitches that got past Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta (officially one wild pitch, one passed ball and one throwing error).

This one day after they scored their winning run on a safety squeeze. Such is the desperation the Nationals find themselves in with Adam Eaton, Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy all injured and Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner and Michael A. Taylor all batting .203 or worse.

“I still look at our lineup when it goes up every day and feel like we have a deep lineup going out there,” catcher Wieters said. “So we still feel like we can score runs. We just haven’t done it in abundance early. Granted, I would love to have Murph, I’d love to have Tony in the lineup, I’d love to have Eaton in the lineup. It makes us better. But we still feel we’ve got a pretty good lineup going out there. It’s just about continuing to string at-bats, continuing to get guys on base - which we’re actually doing at a pretty great rate - and then the big hits.”

It would also help if they didn’t run themselves into outs seemingly on a daily basis. Or, as was the case in this game, twice.

In the bottom of the seventh of what was then a 4-4 game, Harper led off from first base and upon hearing Howie Kendrick crush a ball to right-center took off thinking he was going to end up scoring the go-ahead run. The only problem: The stiff wind that had been knocking down balls hit to right field all afternoon indeed also knocked down this one and allowed center fielder Charlie Blackmon to make the catch and then double up Harper, who had already rounded second before realizing what happened.

Harper-Swings-42-White-Sidebar.jpg“My reads off the bat are pretty dang good, so you hear a ball off the bat that loud, you think it’s definitely off the wall, or even a homer,” Harper said. “So I was scoring. The wind knocked it down, and I got doubled up.”

Said Martinez: “He thought - we all thought - the ball was crushed. So he thought the ball was going to be off the wall, so he went. And when he turned second and looked back, the ball was caught.”

One inning later, with the Nationals trailing 5-4 following D.J. LeMahieu’s homer off Shawn Kelley’s 0-2 fastball, Wieters found himself on first base with nobody out and Moises Sierra at the plate. Martinez considered sending the much faster Pedro Severino out to pinch-run for Wieters, but with a short bench in a close game decided to keep Severino on the bench “in case we needed him.”

At the outset of this series, Martinez and first base coach Tim Bogar had told players they might find opportunities to run against Rockies reliever Adam Ottavino, whose delivery to the plate - clocked at a full two seconds - was so slow even someone like Wieters could swipe a surprise base.

“Myself, Bogey, we know which guys we can possibly steal on, and he was definitely on the radar,” Martinez said. “He doesn’t hold runners on very well.”

Wieters, owner of eight career stolen bases and only four attempts in the last four-plus seasons, decided now was the time to try what everyone else in the ballpark must have thought was the impossible. He was thrown out, killing that potential rally.

“It was on me,” Wieters said. “(Bogar) kind of gave me the heads up on what (Ottavino’s) time was; it felt slow to me. I felt like it was a time that I could get him, and I didn’t want to hesitate with it, and I didn’t. It just happened to be where the throw kind of took the fielder into the runner. He made a great catch. It’s a tough ball to be able to make a play on.”

Those are the kind of mistakes the Nationals made throughout a 3-7 homestand against the Mets, Braves and Rockies. They leave this team with a 7-9 overall record, and now a six-game deficit to division-leading New York in advance of a three-game series at Citi Field, with Jeremy Hellickson officially announced as Monday’s starter against Jacob deGrom.

Suffice it to say, this isn’t the scenario this team expected to find itself in at this early stage of a season that only 16 games in is teetering on the brink of disaster.

“I think something’s missing right now,” right-hander Stephen Strasburg said. “In times like that, I think you can sit there and let it keep going or grind. And I think that’s what we’re trying to do, and that’s all we really can do. We’re too good of a team to not be winning games. It’s going to change. I think it’s just a matter of sticking together, and playing good baseball and playing at the level that we know we’re capable of playing.”

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