It's easy to see progress with the Nationals everywhere you look. All that's necessary is turning the calendar back a year, when they were finishing a 26-61 first half and flying back home from Houston, where manager Manny Acta would be fired upon landing at Washington Dulles International Airport
Compared to 2009's funeral march feel, everything about 2010 looks good in comparison. But the Nationals are still 39-50, far from where they expected to be after starting 20-15. And mistakes like the ones they made on Sunday are far too often at the heart of why they're losing.
Sunday's 6-2 loss to the Giants was as much a case study of the Nationals' woes as anything else. They fell behind 5-0 in an uncharacteristically bad start from Livan Hernandez, but that wasn't the main issue. No, that was the Nationals' inability to solve Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner, who was making his fifth major league start and joined the list of nondescript pitchers to shut the Nationals down in the last month.
Though the Nationals had seven hits off Bumgarner - and 10 overall - they could manage only two runs. They left 13 runners on base, ending both the sixth and seventh innings with the bases loaded.
In the seventh, Ivan Rodriguez shot a fly ball off Bumgarner to deep center, but it died at the warning track, and so did a chance at a game-tying homer.
"Pudge just missed it a little bit, a little bit off the end (of his bat). That would've been huge," manager Jim Riggleman said. "That would have been huge. They made the necessary pitches. They rallied on us early, twice, took a nice lead on us. It was kind of an uphill battle, but our guys got after it, grinded out at bats. We just came up short each time."