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NEW YORK | Is there any rhyme or reason to this Nationals offense, which can score 27 runs in a four-game win streak and then scrounge for eight in its next six games?
What is there to make of an attack that's often been at its best against the game's top pitchers, only to fall flat against pitching's lesser lights?
Consider the register of pitchers with wins or commanding performances against the Nationals this year: Gavin Floyd, Bruce Chen, Casey Coleman, Brian Bannister, Todd Wellmeyer and Bud Norris.
Bob and Ray talk with Jim Riggleman following the Nats' 2-1 10-inning loss to the Mets
Weigh that against this list of losers against the Nationals this year: Johan Santana, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Tommy Hanson, Roy Oswalt, Clayton Kershaw, Derek Lowe, Adam Wainwright and Jair Jurrjens.
It might be nothing more than an anomaly, a testament to the quirks that make baseball so endearing. But on nights like this, it's also what makes it maddening.
The Nationals fell 2-1 to the Mets on Friday night, striking out 10 times and managing three hits off a New York right-hander named Pat Misch, who won for the first time in 363 days and in doing so, posted the second-best start of his major league career. They squandered an encouraging performance from Jordan Zimmermann and some equally fine work from their redoubtable bullpen, finally falling in the 10th inning when Josh Thole hit Tyler Clippard's high fastball over the right field fence.
They have now lost three straight to the Mets, letting slip a season series they had controlled early this year. And they've done it against the likes of Dillon Gee, R.A. Dickey and Misch.
"Our bullpen did a good job. Zim did a good job," manager Jim Riggleman said. "It was just a bad offensive night."
None of the Nationals could particularly identify what made Misch tough. He lived on pitches down and away, mixing a mid-80s cutter with a slider and changeup that had Washington's hitters fishing all night.
They hadn't seen Misch before, and that might have had something to do with it, but was anything he was throwing that tough to handle?
"I guess for the first time seeing him, he was alright. He's a good little pitcher," center fielder Nyjer Morgan said. "But I think if we see him again, we'll get him."
The other theory is this: The Nationals' offense just isn't good enough to consistently wear down pitchers, especially without Ryan Zimmerman and with still-green hitters like Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond and Justin Maxwell getting consistent playing time this month.
The Nationals are in the bottom third of the National League in most offensive categories, and their team on-base percentage has fallen 17 points from last season, as Morgan has struggled and young hitters take their licks from pitchers. That's been the biggest hole in the Nationals' game; when they're not going right at the plate, they don't have enough disciplined hitters to cover it up once in a while.
That's the cost of doing business with young players, and it will probably pay off in the end. But for now, it leads to some ugly offensive performances against some unlikely candidates.
Add Friday's 2-1 loss to Misch and the Mets to that list.
"It's just one of those things where if you don't know a guy, it's going to be a little tougher to hit up there, instead of seeing somebody a few times and actually having a rhythm with the guy," Morgan said.