Corbin roughed up, Nats lose sixth straight (updated)

Precisely one week ago, Davey Martinez sat in his office at Rogers Centre and raved about the Nationals’ performance in a tense win over the Blue Jays, the latest in a string of impressive wins for this fast-improving ballclub.

"It was awesome for them to feel that adrenaline," the manager said that night. "That was a playoff game. That's what it felt like. Fans were into it. You had a good team on the other side there. The boys stepped up and played well. You can't ask for more than what they did today."

Oh, how long ago that feels now.

The Nationals team that was blown out 11-5 by the Mets tonight looked like it felt no adrenaline. It gave the crowd little reason to provide them with any extra energy. It spent two hours going through the motions of a lopsided game before putting up a bit of a fight late that nonetheless resulted in a sixth consecutive loss, further distancing itself from what felt like such an encouraging stretch of success just before it all came crashing down.

"Look, after the seventh inning, we're pretty good at scoring runs," Martinez said. "But we've got to get some runs early in the game. Especially when you're already down 4-0. To me, that's the big key. When you're in these games and all of a sudden you go down in the first inning, it sucks the air out of you. You're playing comeback. We've got to get through those first couple innings, score some runs early and often and then go from there."

One week ago, the Nats appeared on their way to a 75-win season, maybe more, heading into the winter on the most uplifting note anyone around here experienced in four years. Now, there’s no guarantee they’re even going to reach the 70-win mark, which would require an 8-15 finish against a closing schedule that includes 15 games against the Dodgers, Braves, Brewers and Orioles. 

"We've played some really good teams the second half and have been competitive," Patrick Corbin said. "I think every team has stretches like this at some point, and stretches where they play well. I was hoping to come in tonight and end that, and it just didn't happen."

The Nationals’ sixth straight loss bore resemblance to several of the previous ones, only worse. They trailed 4-0 before any of their own hitters even picked up a bat. They trailed 7-1 by the third inning, Corbin well on his way to a second straight blowup start.

This losing streak began Wednesday afternoon in Toronto with Corbin getting roughed up for six runs on 10 hits in five-plus innings. The left-hander was back on the mound tonight, moved up a slot in the rotation to give MacKenzie Gore (who just returned from bereavement leave) a couple extra days to prep. He wound up with his worst outing of the year.

Corbin’s 2023 season began with an Opening Day dud against the Braves, who made him throw 85 pitches in three-plus innings and knocked him out early. He had made 26 starts since that day. And though the results often weren’t positive, if nothing else he completed at least five innings every single time.

Not tonight. Six batters into his outing, Corbin trailed 4-0, having allowed two singles, a sacrifice bunt, a sacrifice fly, a hit batter and the big blast: Francisco Alvarez’s towering, three-run homer to left.

For all his struggles, Corbin has this year shown an ability to bounce back from a ragged first inning to at least keep the game competitive into the fifth or sixth. Not tonight.

He opened the third allowing a homer to Francisco Lindor, allowed two more runs that inning on Brett Baty’s two-out single, then allowed yet another homer in the fourth to Brandon Nimmo. That was the 30th home run surrendered by Corbin this year, tied with the Phillies’ Aaron Nola for second-most in the National League, trailing only fellow Nats starter Trevor Williams’ 33.

"Up. All the balls they hit out were up," Martinez said. "He's got to get the ball down. He's got to pitch down."

And when the top of the fifth arrived and Andres Machado trotted in from the bullpen, Corbin’s streak of five-inning starts was over. His ERA, which stood at 4.90 two starts ago – a significant improvement by the admittedly low bar he has set for himself in recent years – is now up to 5.23, with only three (possibly four) outings left in his 2023 season.

"Overall, everything just seemed a little bit off today," he said. "I felt all right, but it seemed like any pitch today, they hit hard."

Given the massive hole their starter dug his team into, it may not have mattered who was in the Nationals lineup tonight. But the fact they went into this game without either CJ Abrams or Lane Thomas – the first time both regulars sat on the same day – made the challenge all the more daunting.

For seven innings, the Nats offense consisted of a first-inning run produced by Jacob Young (filling in for Abrams as leadoff) and Joey Meneses, and nothing else. They finally made some noise in the bottom of the eighth, scoring four runs off the Mets bullpen to offer a glimmer of hope of the impossible.

But that hope was fleeting at best. Despite some late-inning spunk, the Nationals still ended the night with their sixth straight loss, suddenly in danger of spoiling the positive vibes they created only one week ago.

"If you look at our starting pitching right now, they're going four-plus innings," Martinez said. "When we get five-plus, six innings, we're usually pretty good. I think that's key."


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Game 139 lineups: Nats vs. Mets

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