After the Nationals blew a big lead for the second straight game on Saturday in Baltimore, I asked manager Jim Riggleman if he was worried about getting into a pattern where the Nationals expect something to go wrong every time they take a lead. He said this in response:
"I'm not concerned with that. I'll take that big lead every time. I like to deal with the big lead. We've just got to feel like if we have a five-run lead or a five-run deficit, we've just got to keep playing. That's what Baltimore's done the last couple days. They kept playing, and good things happened for them."
That lesson apparently hasn't set in yet.
The lead the Nationals blew on Sunday - a 3-0 margin against the Orioles - wasn't as striking as their collapses on the way to blowing a 6-0 lead on Friday and a 5-0 lead on Saturday. But the only difference on Sunday was, they didn't score as many runs in the first four innings.
After the fourth inning, in each game, the Nationals couldn't score a run. They've lost seven of nine, 20 of 24 on the road, dropped three straight to the worst team in baseball and now head to Atlanta for three games to face the Braves, the second-best team in the National League.
Now, there are a few signs of life with this team offensively; Roger Bernadina proved that on Sunday with his opposite-field homer off Jeremy Guthrie. But they haven't been able to finish games, and Tyler Clippard took the loss in two of them this weekend. He threw a belt-high fastball to Miguel Tejada in the eighth inning, and Tejada drove it back up the middle for a go-ahead single. After the inning, Clippard took his frustrations out on the bench in the visitors' dugout, repeatedly slamming his right hand into it.
The Nationals gave up another run on a throwing error, this one from Adam Kennedy. They gave up the go-ahead run in an inning where they picked off a runner at second base. And their offense went completely dormant after the fourth inning, again.
Now, once more, they turn to Stephen Strasburg and ask him to end a losing streak. Only this time, it's on the road against Tim Hudson, who's had his fair share of dominating games against them. And looking beyond this series, they've got the Mets, Padres and Giants.
The Nationals are now 10 games under .500. It's completely conceivable they could be 15 games under by the All-Star break.
Is there room to turn things around? Riggleman seems to see the positives in the way the Nationals are playing, pointing out a slight resurgence in the offense and a reduction in errors the last few days (though both issues have still managed to crop up).
But this was a team that, early this season, won tough games on the road against opponents who were more talented than them. They haven't done that lately, and with a series like the one they played this weekend, you've got to wonder how much longer it will take them to find that form again, if they can.