This season has been headed in this direction for a while. It was a matter of when, not if, the Nationals would lose their 100th game of 2022.
Well, it happened tonight in the 153rd game on the schedule via an 8-0 series-opening loss to the Braves in front of an announced crowd of 24,684 at Nationals Park. For the first time since 2009, when they went 59-103, the Nationals have lost 100 games in a single season.
Thirteen years ago, the Nationals suffered their second straight 100-loss season. But those years netted the franchise back-to-back No. 1 overall picks, used to draft Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
A string of success followed that was matched by only a few other teams in the major leagues. From 2012-2019, the Nats won four National League East division titles, a wild card game and the 2019 World Series. They also finished above .500 in each of those eight years.
But those days of winning are gone for now. The Nats are going to suffer their third straight sub-.500 campaign and last-place finish in the NL East. They’re now the first team to lose 100 games this year.
“Sucks, right? And we all know it sucks," manager Davey Martinez said after the shutout loss. "But we gotta remember what we're trying to do here, right? And it's gonna be a process. So moving forward, hopefully, this will be the last year we lose 100 games and we get better. And that's the goal is to get better. Get our young kids better. And when they come up in spring, get them ready to compete and try to win as many games as possible.
"But nobody should be happy losing 100 games. It's tough, and I know those guys feel it. But like I said, I cannot say enough about how those guys go out and play. They play hard and they are getting better. I see all our young guys getting better. So we got we got to continue to just finish the season off and be ready to go next spring.”
To be fair, the franchise’s focus over these last 14 months has been on restocking a depleted farm system and building toward another string of long-term success starting in a couple of years.
Again, the Nationals have been on this path for several weeks now. It’s no surprise, nor does it mean anything in the grand scheme of things, especially since they’re not guaranteed a top pick, with Major League Baseball implementing a draft lottery starting next year.
This game did help the Braves gain a half-game on the Mets, who were idle today, in the NL East. New York now holds a one-game lead over Atlanta in the division with just over a week left to play in the regular season.
The evening started well for Cory Abbott, who was facing the Braves for the second straight outing after allowing four runs and six hits with two walks over four innings at Truist Park a week ago.
“Yes, but if you just focus on the game plan and execute your pitches, you shouldn't, you know, you don't have to focus on that," Abbott said of the challenge facing a tough lineup in consecutive starts. "You're in the game, you might see something different. Your slider might be a little better, curveball might be a little better. So I just kind of stuck with approach.”
He was much better this time around, holding the Braves hitless through the first three innings. The only baserunner he had allowed was a walk to William Contreras in the second.
Abbott was close to extending his no-hit bid through the fourth, having only hit Austin Riley with a pitch to put a runner on base. But the first hit he surrendered was a two-out two-run homer on the first pitch to Matt Olson to put the Nats down 2-0. A leadoff homer in the fifth by Marcell Ozuna made it 3-0 quickly.
And then things began to fall apart for the Nats even more rapidly.
Abbott returned to the mound at 73 pitches to start the sixth inning. But after a leadoff walk and a single, Martinez brought in Andres Machado to get out of a jam with runners on the corners and no outs. A move that would prove to be unsuccessful.
Machado surrendered a sacrifice fly to Olson and hit Contreras to allow another run to score with runners still on the corners. The right-hander almost got out of the inning with limited damage by inducing a ground ball from Eddie Rosario. But with CJ Abrams trying to complete a double play on his own at second, Joey Meneses was charged with an error after dropping the throw to first, allowing another run to score.
The Braves weren’t done either. Ozuna followed with an RBI double and Orlando Arcia hit a two-run homer to make it 8-0 by the time the inning ended. Atlanta pushed five runs across in the sixth with only one of them earned, due to Meneses’ error.
“You don't want to miss up against those guys, especially with your secondary pitches," Martinez said. "They hit the secondary pitches very well, especially when it's up.”
“I was happy until the sixth inning," Abbott said. "A couple of bad things didn't go my way. But just better, focusing on the positives again and being consistent with the pitches. I just kind of keep handling that and moving forward.”
Abbott finished five innings plus two batters and was charged with three hits, five runs (four earned), three walks and seven strikeouts on 83 pitches, 52 strikes.
“Confusing, because he started off really well," Martinez said of Abbott's outing. "But when he got the ball up, there was the problem. When he kept the ball down effectively, he was good. His changeup was good, curveball was good. When he missed up, then he got hit hard. But overall, I thought he threw the ball well.”
“Disappointment," Abbott said. "I didn't give my team a chance to win. So that's kind of how I put it.”
Offensively, the Nats once again had trouble against rookie right-hander Bryce Elder, who held them to one run on four hits and two walks with six strikeouts over 5 ⅔ innings on Wednesday.
Elder improved on that performance with a complete-game shutout, the first of his young career. He kept his pitch count low throughout the night with a lot of fly balls for quick and easy outs while holding the Nats to six hits and one walk with four strikeouts. He needed 105 pitches to complete the shutout.
“His sinker was really good," Martinez said of Elder. "His sinker and changeup were really, really good. So we needed to stay in the middle of the field with him, especially our left-handed hitters, stay in the middle because his sinker was good. He got in on our right-handers quite a bit. But he had a good game today, he really did. He kept us off balance. But his sinker, he had both sides of the plate with his sinker working really well.”
It was the 11th time the Nationals have been shut out this season, the first since a 6-0 loss to the Padres here on Aug. 14.
The Nats had a chance to score some runs off Elder in the sixth with the bases loaded and one out for Luke Voit. But the designated hitter lined out to Riley, who then threw Abrams out off the bag at second base for the inning-ending double play. It was a moment of bad luck for Voit, whose 99 mph liner had an expected batting average of .690.
But bad luck didn’t lose this game for the Nats. The opposing pitcher and lineup were better. Something that’s now happened 100 times in a single season for the first time in over a decade.
“Absolutely," Martinez said when asked if his young players can learn from experiencing a 100-loss season. "I mean, these guys are young, they're playing in the major leagues, so they're getting tons of experience. They're getting tons of coaching. So they can learn a lot, especially with some of these teams that we're playing now that are headed to the playoffs. Watch, learn, observe, because one day that's going to be us.”
* MacKenzie Gore's fourth rehab start with Triple-A Rochester did not go well tonight.
Scheduled to go five frames, Gore finished only 3 ⅔ innings and gave up six hits, six runs, a walk and three home runs. He struck out three while throwing 72 pitches, 45 strikes.
The Nationals will wait to have him rejoin them in D.C. before formulating next steps for their young left-hander.
"I saw the reports," Martinez said. "He got through three innings fairly well. Fourth inning was, once again, he lost command of his fastball, started getting everything up. But he threw (72) pitches, so that's good. So we'll see. He'll meet us back here, we'll see how he's feeling and then we'll assess what we're gonna do with him next.”