Before Monday's game against the Atlanta Braves, Nationals manager Jim Riggleman held a team meeting to address some of the issues that have cropped up in a tailspin that's gone on for the better part of six weeks.
So what's the response after this one?
The Nationals had played six sharp innings against the first-place Braves on Monday night, with Stephen Strasburg matching Tim Hudson zero for zero. And then things went off the rails.
Strasburg, who had been as sublime as ever for the first six innings, bore some responsibility for Monday's seventh-inning meltdown, walking Chipper Jones and allowing a single to Brian McCann. But he did what he had to do after that, getting a grounder to Ian Desmond that should've gone for a double play. Only Desmond muffed a routine ball. Then Nyjer Morgan threw to the wrong base on a sacrifice fly, allowing two runners to move up. And then Strasburg gave up a single to left, leaving the game after it had slipped from his control - but not before it, because manager Jim Riggleman said there was no one in his bullpen he trusted as much as Strasburg. And then...well, you probably saw the rest from there - a bobbled bunt by Sean Burnett, a deflected ball between Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond and a game gone out of control.
The final result was a 5-0 loss to the Braves and another piece of evidence that this team isn't ready to win yet. They've lost 21 of 25 on the road, given up 37 unearned runs in their last 40 games and dropped 29 of their last 42. That's not a competitive team. That's the 2009 Nationals with a 20-15 start thrown on the front of the season.
General manager Mike Rizzo and Riggleman both drew rhetorical lines in the sand over the last 24 hours, and there could be roster moves to follow. We'll see one on Tuesday, when Craig Stammen comes up to pitch for the Nationals and Tyler Walker heads to the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. But Desmond (who has 19 errors), Morgan and others could pay for the struggles with a loss of playing time or a spot on the roster.
And here's the great shame in all this for the Nationals: The talk before the season was that if they could, somehow, just hang around .500 until Strasburg got to the majors, things could get very interesting. They did that, starting 20-15 and fashioning a 28-31 mark when he arrived. They're 5-14 with him on the roster, and despite his 2.27 ERA, they've won just two of his five starts.
The Nationals had a chance this summer to create some buzz, make some new fans and possibly capture the imagination of a twice-burned baseball town. Instead, they're fading from relevance, and it remains to be seen how long Strasburg can keep them sniffing it. He's got two more home starts until the All-Star break, and won't pitch as much in the second half of the season. Will fans keep buying tickets once his starts are a little less regular and the Nationals' solo turn in the market's spotlight ends? Redskins training camp is a month away.
I'd love to hear from some fans on this. Will you keep turning out to watch Strasburg if the team keeps slipping? Or do the Nationals need to win to keep the Strasburg Effect going?
They certainly need some wins for plenty of other reasons.