In the last three weeks, the Nationals finally looked like the team they'd planned to be all season. They went 130 2/3 innings without an error, polishing their fielding percentage until it was tied for the second-best in baseball, and continued to get surprising pitching performances from a starting staff most expected to be mediocre; their starters had allowed just 32 earned runs in 17 games this month before Sunday.
Once the Nationals' offense was finally added to the mix, they put together some of the best baseball they'd played since their first season in Washington: an eight-game win streak that won three series, inched them a game from the .500 mark and lured more fans out to Nationals Park to see if this team might be for real.
The Nationals have figured out what they need to do to win. They just did little of it on Sunday. And as a result, their winning streak is over.
They made three errors in a 7-4 loss to the Orioles, and bobbled several other balls in the outfield. Tom Gorzelanny left pitches up in the strike zone, exiting the game before the end of the sixth inning for the fourth straight start and negating the outfield assist and three double plays he got. It was, in short, the kind of game the Nationals might have played in April, and certainly have played plenty of times in past years.
"It was sloppy today, and that's the reason we lost," said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who made the first error with a high throw in the second inning. "You don't deserve to win when you play like that."
No one in the Nationals' clubhouse seemed too concerned with the effects of the loss beyond today's game, and after they'd just won eight straight games, there's probably not much reason to be. Zimmerman's throw in the first inning looked like he wasn't quite set on his new throwing mechanics yet, but he insisted he feels great on the field. "I feel great. I got two or three balls after that, and they were perfect," Zimmerman said. "I just made a bad throw."
But the game was a good reminder of what happens when the Nationals get away from playing clean baseball.
"There's three errors on the board - it's a little bit like earlier in the year, where we made some errors that are kind of strange," manager Jim Riggleman said. "(Jayson) Werth made a great effort on a ball in right field and then dropped it, so that ends up being an error. The ball that (Wilson) Ramos threw into the runner a little bit (on a stolen base), that ends up as one. Zim made an error - that's baseball. By normal baseball action there, we made one error. The other stuff is a little misleading. I think we played good defense, turned a lot of double plays. It just wasn't our day."