PHILADELPHIA | The Nationals' early-season trademark, as much as anything, was their ability to win games they should have lost. They'd overcome a mediocre outing from their starter, hold iPad-thin late-inning leads, and generally make a habit out of surviving. In the first two months of the year, they were 9-6 in one-run games. At that point, it looked less like a product of good luck than of gumption.
With two and a half months more data to work with, now we know: It was good luck at the beginning of the year. Either that, or these Nationals just aren't able to do what kept them around .500 for two months.
Their 1-0 loss to the Phillies on Friday night was composed the way so many of them have been: a stranded runner here, a defensive mishap there, misfortune on the basepaths at the worst possible time. In all, they've lost 22 of 38 one-run games, including 15 in a row on the road. Friday's loss cost them a chance at a victory in what looked like a mismatch.
Jason Marquis did his part to tip the game the Nationals' way. His sinker still wasn't sharp enough to look like the best pitch for a pitcher making $7.5 million this year, and he walked four while giving up four hits in five innings. But Marquis only gave up one run, and it was the first time this year he'd made it through five innings.
Pin this one, instead, on the handfuls of men the Nationals left on base against Phillies ace Roy Halladay (12 in all, courtesy of an 0-for-11 night with men in scoring position), a weak defense (Raul Ibanez squeezed his double between Adam Dunn and the first-base line when a more nimble fielder might have stopped it) and an unfortunate display of aggression (Ian Desmond's steal of third in the seventh inning, which got him doubled off second on Ryan Zimmerman's liner to left).
There was a little bit of bad luck, too; Desmond's double off Brad Lidge in the ninth nearly tied the game. Overall, just enough went wrong for the Nationals to lose, like it has in these games for the last 2 1/2 months.
"To play Atlanta and Philadelphia as tough as our guys are playing them and be right there, I know it's not what fans want to hear," manager Jim Riggleman said. "It sounds like I'm accepting that we got beat. I'm not accepting it at all. I hate it. But I'm proud of the way they're competing against these ballclubs. We're right there. We're showing ourselves that we can play with these guys."