Not even nice breaks can stop Nationals’ breakdown in loss to Mets

You’re sure to see the play on highlight shows a couple dozen times tomorrow: Mets shortstop Jose Reyes slaps a ball off Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard into a corner in left center, Rick Ankiel throws a missile to third, one-hopping a throw to Jerry Hairston Jr. The throw is a half-second late, but in the process of Hairston tagging Reyes, his feet and the heel of his hand come off the base - though his fingers stay on. Third base umpire Marvin Hudson calls Reyes out, and only Mets third base coach Chip Hale can come between Hudson and a leaping, raving Reyes, whose dreadlocks are flailing everywhere as he protests the call.

On the next at-bat, Daniel Murphy homered to right field, but without Reyes on base, the shot merely ties the game, instead of putting the Mets ahead - and the Nationals retake the lead in the bottom of the eighth.

It’s the kind of golden break that has seemed impossible for the Nationals to get lately. And yet, it still wasn’t enough to pull them out of their funk on Wednesday.

Jim Riggleman meets with the media to talk about the Nats’ disappointing 6-3 loss

After falling 6-3 to the Mets, the Nationals have lost six of seven, the last two coming on key meltdowns form their bullpen - Doug Slaten let two inherited runners score last night, and Sean Burnett allowed four runs in the ninth inning, though several of the hits were bleeders. It wasted an impressive start from Tom Gorzelanny, and it meant the Nationals will lose their third consecutive series.

Next up? A four-game series with the world champion San Francisco Giants, followed by what’s sure to be an intense three-game set in Philadelphia with Jayson Werth making his return.

The Nationals are in a slide right now, the kind that’s seemed to grab almost every area of the team and pulled it down. They’ve made 21 errors in 23 games. Their normally redoubtable bullpen has been largely responsible for two straight losses. And they’re still hitting .227 as a team, after going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranding eight on Wednesday.

The good news for the Nationals is, Werth seems to be heating up; he went 2-for-4 on Wednesday, and has a history of going on the kind of runs that can get an entire team humming. The batters hitting in front of him and behind him (Rick Ankiel and Adam LaRoche) had key doubles on Wednesday that looked like they’d lift the Nationals to a win.

But as the days go by, the absence of Ryan Zimmerman in the lineup is becoming more and more obvious. This is an attack that sometimes feels a batter too short even with Zimmerman in the lineup; without him, it’s groping for answers. The Nationals are hitting .215 with men in scoring position this year, and on days where Wilson Ramos is in the lineup, they still have seven starters hitting under .300.

On Thursday, they get a pitcher (Mets starter Chris Capuano) they hit well once this year, scoring four runs off him in six innings of a loss. But they might need more than that - even the gifts they were handed on Wednesday weren’t enough.

“On the play at third base and on the ball that LaRoche hit down the left field line, it looked like maybe a couple breaks are finally going to go our way a little bit. Maybe it’s going to turn for us,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “But it turned back the other way.”