That the Nationals are losing games at this rate, though disappointing and frustrating, is not necessarily surprising. This week – with eight games in seven days against the red-hot Braves and Phillies – always loomed as a potential landmine for an overmatched home ballclub.
What is so striking about recent events here is not that the Nats are losing so much, but that they’re losing by so much. Tonight’s 10-1 trouncing at the hands of the Phillies should be an outlier, a rare lopsided game. Instead, it is the absolute norm for this team.
Over their last 17 games, a stretch that began May 30 in New York, the Nationals have trailed at some point by five or more runs a staggering 11 times. They’ve trailed by seven or more runs seven times. And with tonight added to the list, they’ve now trailed by nine or more runs four times.
They’re not just playing bad baseball. They’re playing uncompetitive baseball, facing deficits too large to contemplate overcoming before even reaching the fifth inning many nights.
"You usually try to stay mentally tough and locked in, no matter what the circumstance, if you fall behind early," second baseman Cesár Hernández said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "We have had a few games, but we have the talent to fight and get back in the games. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to lately. But the talent is on the field."
They’re proving to be no challenge at all for their division rivals. This was the Nats' 10th straight loss to a National League East opponent – they’ve been outscored by 62 runs in those games – leaving them a woeful 5-21 on the season against the Phillies, Mets, Braves and Marlins.
Philadelphia came to town nearly as red-hot as Atlanta was when it left town late Wednesday night after completing a series sweep, and then showed it for everyone in attendance to see, racking up seven runs in the top of the third and two more in the fourth to put the game on ice early.
The Nationals certainly helped make that possible, with a deadly combination of wretched pitching and defense that made that top of the third as ugly an inning of major league baseball you’ll ever witness, with Patrick Corbin stuck watching it all unfold from the mound.
"The mental mistakes, the errors," manager Davey Martinez said. "Patrick today didn't deserve that. We gave them 30 outs today. We gave them six outs in one inning. You can't do that when a team comes in swinging the bats like they can swing."
Corbin, believe it or not, had been cruising along, retiring the first eight batters he faced in this game and not allowing a single ball to leave the infield. And when he got No. 9 hitter Yairo Munoz to hit a sharp grounder to second, it appeared the lefty would be heading back to the dugout with an unblemished line and only 37 pitches to his name through three innings.
Except Hernández made a casual, backhanded attempt to snag the chopper for a two-out error that would prove far more costly than anyone could’ve imagined in the moment.
"It's unfortunate. The only people who don't make errors are the fans watching the game, the people out in the stands," Hernández said. "Every player out on that field knows that errors are part of the game, and they come. Unfortunately, I was the one who made that error, and unfortunately for Corbin because of that long inning, he was unable to go any longer than what he did."
Kyle Schwarber, who you may remember enjoys hitting in this ballpark in June, followed the error with a two-run homer to center. Rhys Hoskins would follow with a double, then Bryce Harper would draw a walk, then Nick Castellanos would single home a run, then J.T. Realmuto would beat out a grounder to short (with Luis García not showing a ton of urgency to make the play), then Didi Gregorius would drive home two more with a double, then Corbin would be late to cover first on Alec Bohm’s grounder to the right side and Bell’s throw would sail away from him for another defensive gaffe in a sequence filled with them.
"It seemed like everything that could go wrong did," Bell said. "That's just part of the game. We've got to learn from our mistakes, play better. It comes from the workday. It comes from practice. If we can clean things up, then we'll play better baseball."
All told, the Phillies scored seven runs in the inning off Corbin, who was forced to throw 36 extra pitches after the Hernández error. None of those runs officially was earned, but it’s not like the laboring lefty didn’t play a huge role in the onslaught.
And the nightmare wasn’t even complete yet. Schwarber led off the fourth with another homer off Corbin, remarkably his 14th in his last 20 June games played at Nationals Park (the first 12 of them for the home team last summer).
Two batters later, Corbin was pulled. With his rotation and bullpen decimated, and with a doubleheader looming Friday, Davey Martinez desperately needed 100-plus pitches and ideally six or more innings from Corbin. Instead, he got 84 pitches over 3 1/3 innings, with nine runs (two earned) and eight hits to his name.
"I felt really good," he said. "And then I think I threw maybe 45 pitches in that inning, and kind of was just shot after that. ... I know the state of our bullpen, so obviously I wanted to try to get as deep as I could to try to save some of those arms, especially with the doubleheader coming up."
Everything that happened after that was relatively inconsequential, the two teams just playing the requisite final five innings to complete the game, the Nationals trying to use as few relievers as possible. They wound up using three, plus position player Ehire Adrianza in the top of the ninth, and perhaps will need to make more roster moves before Friday’s doubleheader to bring in another fresh arm or two.
There are four more games to be played over the next three days before this brutal stretch ends.
"Everyone in here is frustrated," Corbin said. "It's just kind of how today went. No one wants to lose (by) a score like that. It happens. We just have to get over it and move forward."