For most of the season, it's been easy - and accurate - to blame most of the Nationals' losses on their inability to hit. They're still among the worst teams in the National League in most offensive categories, and headed into the ninth inning on Wednesday night, they'd scored four runs in a span of 26 innings.
But the Nationals have been able to stay around .500 for the last six weeks because of a pitching staff that's outperformed its capabilities, with starters keeping walks and homers down to go deep in games and relievers pitching well in tough situations.
That hasn't been the case since the All-Star break, though. And not coincidentally, the Nationals are starting to slip.
Their 7-5 loss to the Marlins on Wednesday night was about their lack of offense for eight innings. But once they came back for four runs in the ninth inning, the homers their pitching staff had given up - particularly the two to journeyman Mike Cameron surrendered by the Nationals' bullpen - started to look awfully big.
In the end, the Nationals lost their fourth straight game, and eighth in the last 11, because they couldn't pitch well enough to make a surprising offensive outburst matter.
"We've been pitching good the whole year," said starter Livan Hernandez, who needed 87 pitches to get through four innings and allowed four runs. "When you're good the whole year, and you start struggling a little bit, it's difficult. We know we've got to come back and pitch better."
The Nationals allowed just 71 homers in 92 games before the All-Star break; they've given up 11 in 11 games since then. They've allowed 4.11 walks per nine innings since the break, which is the fourth-highest mark in the majors. And a starting pitcher has made it through the sixth inning only three times since the All-Star break.
That's stressed a bullpen that had been solid in the first half; the Nationals' relievers have allowed five homers in the second half, after giving up only 23 in the first 92 games of the season.
On Wednesday night, it was those two homers that proved to be the difference; Todd Coffey gave up a solo shot to Cameron in his second inning of work, and closer Drew Storen - who was pitching because he hadn't thrown in four days and manager Davey Johnson needed a fresh arm - gave up a two-run blast to the center fielder in the ninth. When Laynce Nix's fly ball settled on the warning track for the final out, a few feet shy of a game-tying homer, the one Storen gave up multiplied in importance.
"It's disappointing on my part, because I want to keep that game close," Storen said. "It's good for them to battle back and not give up. Hopefully we can get them tomorrow."
To do so, they'll need their pitchers to regain the kind of efficient form they had in the first half. That's gone missing so far after the break, and so have all the wins the Nationals were piling up in June and July.
"They're walking more people than they did before. They know, we know, everyone knows," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "They've been the most consistent thing on this team all year. They've given a chance to win every game. To kind of go after them and attack them is ridiculous, because they've been this team, pretty much - the most consistent thing. We've been struggling, and they've kind of held their heads up the whole time. They'll get out of it."