The Nationals' offense, once again, drug them down on Wednesday night, unable to do much other than strike out against Cubs starter Ryan Dempster while Jason Marquis was throwing his . The Nationals have scored 13 runs in their last six games, and if you take out an 8-1 victory over the Phillies - their only win in that stretch - they have five runs in their last five losses.
This is going to be a thinner-than-usual lineup for most of the rest of the year, but right now, it's even worse with Adam Dunn slumping like he is. It's left Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman as the only two hitters producing, and many times, those two are on base for Dunn. Manager Jim Riggleman said Dunn - in a 7-for-58 slump - rejected the offer of a day off, and told Riggleman he would have a big day on Thursday. "I think that speaks volumes for him and his confidence," Riggleman said.
But the meager production is there nonetheless, and it's not likely to get better on Thursday, with former Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter on the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Here are the awards from last night:
Jason Marquis: After turning in chopped liver his first five starts of the year and roast beef in his last one, Marquis finally delivered prime rib on Wednesday. His 7 1/3-inning, one-run outing was by far his best of the year, He talked again of throwing his pitches with conviction, and seems to be getting a feel for his sinker. Marquis won't do this every time out - his track record suggests that he's capable at any time of bombing in an outing - but it's big for the Nationals to get their free agent acquisition headed in the right direction to end the year.
Drew Storen: He pitched two-thirds of an inning, calming things down in the ninth after Sean Burnett gave up a homer, and striking out a batter in the seven pitches he threw. Boy, it's hard to find Golden Goose candidates this morning. Nothing against Storen - he did a fine job - but seven-pitch performances with your team down 4-0 shouldn't be enough to land you here.
Tyler Clippard: Earlier this year, it seemed fairly well-established that Clippard was going to struggle when coming into games in the middle of an inning. Maybe some time away from the setup role had obscured that problem a little bit, but it surfaced again on Wednesday, when he came in with one out and one on in the eighth. Clippard gave up a double, scoring his inherited runner, and allowed a two-run homer to Aramis Ramirez. "It's just execution," Clippard said. "It's been a roller-coaster year as far as me getting it done, and it's got to get better. It's not good enough. The consistency just isn't there. I've pitched well, but in those situations, I don't feel like I've pitched well enough. It's got to get better, for sure."
Adam Dunn: He went 0-for-4 and struck out looking three times on Wednesday, and as we mentioned above, his slump has gone on for 58 at-bats, or more than two weeks. Remarkably, Dunn still has seven homers this month - the byproduct of a torrid start. But he's struck out 28 times, or four times as much as he's gotten a hit, since his last homer. That's what you get with a power hitter, but not usually in these extremes.
Sean Burnett: The homer he allowed to Alfonso Soriano came on an elevated fastball, and put the game even further out of reach for the Nationals in the ninth inning. Burnett has been strong most of this year for the Nationals, but made a bad pitch in that spot.
In Case You Missed It:
--Ian Desmond's third inning showed some maturity and improved decision-making from the young shortstop. He ranged behind second base to stop a Dempster single, but unlike the throw he made on the previous homestand on a similar play, firing wildly toward first with his momentum going the other way, Desmond ate the throw. Then, when Dunn fielded a grounder and threw to Desmond at second to get Dempster, he decided not to rush a throw back to first and try to get two. Desmond was rewarded for that on the next at-bat, when Starlin Castro hit him an easy double-play ball. It was an encouraging inning for the talented rookie, especially if it wasn't a fluke.
--Marquis was called for a balk on the second at-bat of the game, with Starlin Castro at the plate and Kosuke Fukudome on first. He promptly talked to home plate umpire Bob Davidson to plead his case. "I was just trying to explain to him that that's what I was doing on the prior three or four pitches, so why call it on that fourth one?" Marquis said. "But you know what? It's part of the game. You've still got to battle through it. It just fired me up a little bit." And he got out of the inning without giving up a run.
--Tasked with giving the Nationals some production in the fifth spot with Josh Willingham out for the year, Roger Bernadina hasn't been producing lately. He's hitting .225 in August, and went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts last night.
1. Has Marquis turned a corner in your mind? We're at least seeing him throw consistently better pitches at this point; he could still stand to cut down on the walks, but he's getting better movement on his sinker and inducing ground balls as a result. This year isn't going to be anything other than a waste for him, but is he salvaging it somewhat?
2. I'm sensing a particularly strong air of discontentment this morning in NatsTown. What's bugging you, specifically? Let me know the issues on your mind with this team. This is probably the worst they've played this year, with a thinned-out lineup that's struggling to produce. "We're still young," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "I think obviously, we played well at the beginning of the year. We know what we can do. But obviously, there's still growing pains." What do you think of that quote, and what's got you down right now?
Leave your answers in the comments section, and I'll respond to some of your thoughts there.