Technically, the Nationals ended their six-game losing streak on Monday night with a 2-1 win over the Kansas City Royals. And the fact they did that is about the only thing to be excited about; it’s hard to find too many signs of a turnaround after getting three hits off Bruce Chen.
But manager Jim Riggleman found them anyway - not only in the two homers the Nationals hit, but the handful of other hard-hit balls that turned into outs. There were few things in the win that looked like harbingers of a turnaround, but the Nationals seemed to see some of them.
“We’re still waiting on the offense,” Riggleman said. “Adam (Dunn)’s really been swinging good, and he just missed a couple tonight. That’s a good sign. I think the three walks by (Ryan) Zimmerman is a good sign. The home runs, of course. (Roger) Bernadina stuck another hit out there. There’s a lot of good things there. As I said, the glass is half-full.”
It has to be for the Nationals these days. They did major, perhaps irreparable, damage to any playoff hopes with an 11-24 stretch, and they’d need to sweep a couple week opponents - the Royals and Orioles - just to get within two games of .500. They haven’t given up on the season, though, not when there’s still 91 games left in it.
“We’ve got to keep playing. There are a lot of games to go,” said catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who threw out two runners and picked off another on a key seventh-inning play. “There’s still pretty much a whole season left. You’ve just got to come ready to play every day.”
The pickoff, where Rodriguez threw out Alberto Callaspo at second base, came when Livan Hernandez threw a pitch outside that Alex Avila couldn’t square up for a bunt. Rodriguez fired to Ian Desmond, who blocked the base perfectly with his knee and tagged out Callaspo. And the Nationals’ two runs came on homers from a pair of unlikely sources - Michael Morse, making a rare start in right field, and Cristian Guzman, who hit his first homer of the year to put the Nationals ahead for good.
Overall, it was the kind of game the Nationals won with regularity earlier this year but haven’t been able to win lately. They pitched well - Hernandez threw seven innings, followed by an inning apiece from Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps - and played solid defense (Nyjer Morgan made an impressive running catch to save a run in the third inning). They didn’t do enough offensively to distance themselves, but produced an important pitching-and-defense win against a team they should beat.
The question remains whether they’ll be able to score enough, or play sharp enough baseball, to reel enough wins to get themselves back to .500. Monday night was a first step, though, and to at least the Nationals, it looked like an omen.
“Yeah, we needed it,” Capps said. “If we hadn’t gotten it, we would’ve been alright; we would’ve come out here and played hard tomorrow, and tried to get one tomorrow. Any win’s a good win. But after losing six in a row, this one feels a little better.”