The Nationals had been shut out four times before tonight. They'd lost to the most dominant pitcher in the game (Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez), an ace rounding back into form after a year of injuries (the White Sox's Jake Peavy), a forgettable pitcher who benefited from their inefficiencies (Kansas City's Brian Bannister) and one of their oldest tormentors (Atlanta's Tim Hudson).
None of those games, though, brought the feeling of a missed opportunity like Saturday's 2-0 loss to the Marlins. The Nationals have struggled to get consistent production from the top of their order all year; they had it on Saturday. They've had the National League's best heart of the order humming for the last three weeks; it went quiet on Saturday.
It added up to the Nationals' fifth shutout loss of the year, a game in which they had 11 hits, a combined 5-for-9 performance from the top two hitters (Nyjer Morgan and Roger Bernadina) and ample opportunities to tie the game against the Marlins' Josh Johnson, who might be the hottest pitcher in the game.
Instead, the game goes down as the best offensive performance of the Nationals' five shutouts, and that's not worth much.
Adam Dunn left six runners on base; he, Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham all ended innings with men in scoring position. Other than those players, the Nationals' best chance to score came in the fourth, when third-base coach Pat Listach waved Adam Kennedy around third when Dan Uggla couldn't handle Ian Desmond's ball at second base. Listach changed his mind and trying to stop Kennedy too late. Kennedy was thrown out at home, and the inning was over.
The most frustrating thing for the Nationals has to be that another shutout came when they got an impressive pitching performance. Twice now, Livan Hernandez has lost in games where the Nationals were shut out, his six innings of one-earned-run ball not good enough to get the job done. Stephen Strasburg has also lost two of those games, and J.D. Martin, who pitched one of his best games of the season on June 19 against the White Sox, dropped the other one.
General manager Mike Rizzo said before the All-Star break that the Nationals' starting rotation has been good enough to give the team a chance most nights, and that happened again on Saturday. If the Nationals win all the games they've been shut out -- which include two one-run losses and two two-run losses -- they're at 45-46.
Instead, they're 40-51, still in last place and still stuck finding consolation in mostly-clean baseball (save Kennedy's out at the plate and Desmond's dropped popup in the second inning, which set up the Marlins' first run). That isn't good enough, and in the end, Saturday's lost was more about what was wasted than whatever was accomplished.