Remember how everything went so well for the Nationals over the weekend? How they played crisp, clean, aggressive, winning baseball against the contending Giants and emerged with their first three-game sweep in more than two years?
Well, the Nats took the field tonight looking to keep those positive vibes going against the National League’s worst team and proceeded not to do anything they did well the previous three days.
During the course of a 10-6 loss to the Rockies, the Nationals looked nothing like the best version of themselves that had just been on display. They got a poor start out of Patrick Corbin. They did next-to-nothing at the plate against a couple of unheralded Colorado pitchers. They were charged with two errors in the field. They ran into one of the most egregious outs on the bases you’ll see all year. They were called for a balk when the pitcher turned to make a pickoff attempt at first base only to realize the runner wasn’t being held on.
"We made some mistakes," manager Davey Martinez said. "A couple of mistakes uncharacteristic to ourselves."
So it was the Nats failed to pull off their first four-game winning streak since June 27-30, 2021, back when Kyle Schwarber was launching home runs and Trea Turner was hitting for the cycle for a ballclub that believed it could compete for another World Series title.
Things haven’t been the same since, but this past weekend may have represented the most encouraging three-day stretch in these parts in the last two years. The team’s sweep of the Giants, combined with the signing and formal introduction of first-round pick Dylan Crews, offered more reason for optimism around here than any comparable stretch since the franchise began its roster overhaul.
Then the Nats took the field tonight.
"I think we had a big high from the sweep, and that's sometimes how the ball rolls," center fielder Alex Call said. "We're going to keep going and get back at it tomorrow."
Corbin was sharp early, retiring the first six batters he faced (three via strikeout) on only 24 pitches. And though he allowed a leadoff single in the third, that runner was erased when Call tracked down Harold Castro’s drive to left-center and then fired back to first base for the team’s second double play started by an outfielder in two days.
But things slowly began to devolve from there. The Rockies scored two runs off Corbin in the fourth, Call’s misplay of Randal Grichuk’s single allowing one of them to score even through the center fielder would immediately redeem himself with a nice throw to the plate to nab Grichuk trying to score on Nolan Jones’ single.
"It happens. I didn't really think anything of it," Call said of his error and subsequent assist. "I tried my best to make a play to cut the guy off in the gap. And then the ball found me right away, and I just executed what I know how to do."
The Nationals recorded yet another outfield assist in the sixth, with Lane Thomas firing a strike to the plate on another Grichuk single to nail Ezequiel Tovar (though only after a replay review reversed Jansen Visconti’s initial safe call). But needing just one more out to get through the inning unscathed, Corbin watched as Jones hammered his first-pitch slider 420 feet to straightaway center field for a two-run homer and a 4-0 Colorado lead.
That would’ve marked the end of the night for most starters. Corbin, though, was given the opportunity to retake the mound for the top of the seventh, his pitch count still a modest 81. That plan backfired, though, when the lefty gave up a leadoff double and then a one-out RBI single before Martinez made the walk to the mound.
Rico Garcia would allow an inherited runner to score, so after all that Corbin finished with six runs and 10 hits allowed over 6 1/3 innings. His ERA is back over 5.00 again, and he has now surrendered 10 or more hits 14 times since 2020. (No other major leaguer pitcher has done that more than five times in the same timeframe.)
"I thought I made some good pitches, got some weak contact," Corbin said of tonight's outing. "And then they seemed to get that big hit when they needed to put up a couple runs."
Perhaps Corbin’s start could’ve been overcome with some offensive support. But that was not to be on this night, at least not until it was too late to make much difference. In six innings against Rockies opener Jake Bird and bulk reliever Karl Kauffmann, the Nationals managed all of two hits and one hit-by-pitch. Nine of their first 12 outs came via ground ball.
"Today, we were getting ourselves out early in the count," said Jeimer Candelario, whose three-run homer in the eighth helped make the final score a bit closer. "We weren't being patient, letting the guy come to us. Instead, we came to him. That's what we need to do better."
Even when they finally got something going in the bottom of the seventh, they shot themselves in the foot. Keibert Ruiz’s RBI single off Brad Hand (whose back-to-back blown saves two years ago this week helped convince Mike Rizzo to tear down his roster at the trade deadline) got the Nats on the board.
But Ruiz then committed the most basic baserunning blunder moments later. When third baseman Alan Trejo caught Dominic Smith’s line drive and misfired an attempted double play throw to second, Ruiz just kept running without ever going back to touch first base. The Rockies dugout screamed and pointed for an appeal throw, which was successful, leaving Ruiz to make an embarrassing jog back to the home dugout on a night of many mistakes by the home team.
"I think it was just a brain freeze," Martinez said. "He started going back, and then when he saw the ball go over his head, he just took off for second. At that point, I go: 'Oh, boy. That's not good.'"