PHILADELPHIA – The first five games of the post-Juan Soto and Josh Bell era have been difficult for the Nationals. And unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any easier.
“They were big parts of the team," manager Davey Martinez said of Soto and Bell. "But for me, it's about giving guys another opportunity. These guys get an opportunity to come up here and play and show what they can do the last two months.”
The Nationals were swept out of Philly today via a 13-1 loss to the Phillies, their fifth straight loss overall and ninth in their last 11 games.
“You know, after the first day, which I thought we played well, game got cut short because of rain, and then the last three games were just not fun," Martinez said. "We got to pitch better. I thought we swung the bats OK 'til today. But we got to pitch better and we gotta get some better starting pitching. We're always behind. It's tough for morale. We do the best we can to keep these guys going, keep the guys positive. As you can see, man, they play. But I mean, we're always behind, so we got to start scoring first and get some better starting pitching.”
The Nats are now 36-74 this season, which puts them on pace to finish 53-109. That would be their worst record in franchise history since the Expos finished 52-110 in their first season in 1969 and the first 100-loss season in club history since 2009.
Losing 102 games in 2008 and 103 in 2009 helped the Nationals net Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper as No. 1 overall picks. With the implementation of the lottery next year, finishing with the league's worst record no longer guarantees the top pick in the following year’s draft. So it’s hard to formulate any positives out of the losses that keep piling up.
Cory Abbott was hoping to provide anything that resembled his five shutout innings against the Mets after the bullpen was needed to cover 11 ⅓ innings over the last two games. But his third major league start was very similar to the past two outings by Nats starters.
Abbott was tagged for seven runs on seven hits and four home runs over 3 ⅔ innings this afternoon, a continuation of Nats starting pitchers struggling with the longball.
His outing actually started with a crisp 1-2-3, six-pitch first inning, in which he became the first Nationals starter to keep Rhys Hoskins in the ballpark in the first frame. Hoskins had homered in his first at-bats in each of the series’ first three games.
“I take it one inning at a time," Abbott said. "Just seeing how the swings are. Just going out there and compete, try to give the team a chance.”
But the efficiency didn’t last long, as Abbott’s first pitch of the second inning was hit for a home run by Darick Hall to give the Phillies an early 1-0 lead.
Abbott also had issues with free passes, walking five batters and hitting one on the day. All six freebies came between the second and fourth innings.
The right-hander escaped a bases-loaded jam in the third with only one run across (via a bases-loaded walk), but was done in with a rough fourth inning. Nick Maton hit a two-run homer before Hoskins finally hit what has become his daily longball, also a two-run shot. Two batters later, Hall hit his second homer of the day and Nick Castellanos walked to finally knock Abbott out of the game with the Nats facing a 7-0 deficit.
“They're just really good at bat-to-ball skills," Abbott said of the Phillies lineup. "Being able to lift the ball out of the park and just sticking to their game plan. Not getting out of it. I think that's what makes them so tough. They weren't swinging at the ones that I thought were competitive down. I really had to stay in the zone.”
It was the fourth time in the last five days that the Nats have trailed at least 6-0.
Which brings us to the offense that didn’t do much better.
Phillies starter Aaron Nola kept the Nats lineup in check for most of his outing. He only surrendered five hits and two walks while striking out five over his six innings. The lone run charged to Nola came on César Hernández’s RBI single in the fifth.
“He came with good command," Luis García said of Nola, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "His pitches were moving very well. And he was basically hitting his spots.”
This was always going to be a tough matchup for the Nationals. They entered this series with the worst record in the majors and an even more depleted roster, while the Phillies were one of the hottest teams in baseball.
And the mismatch showed on the box score.
“What can I say? No one likes to lose," García said. "Right now in this moment, obviously, the team, we're a little low with our mood. But come tomorrow, we're going to come with a positive attitude, with more energy and try to win the game. That's all we can do is come back next day and try to win.”
The Phillies outscored the Nationals 36-12 and out-homered them 14-1 over these four games. The Nationals have only hit eight total home runs in 12 games against the Phils this season.
On the season, the Nationals are 2-10 against the Phillies and have been outscored 83-39.
But that’s in line with the Nats’ struggles throughout the National League East. The good news is they don’t play another divisional foe until Labor Day Weekend. They’re 27-31 against everyone else on the season.
After a rough week, they finally get out of the NL East to face the Cubs in Chicago. A literal friendly sight in the "The Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field."
“We'll get on a plane now. We're headed to Chicago," Davey Martinez said. "When I'm looking at some of their stuff, they're actually playing pretty good baseball. So we gotta get ready to go. Come play tomorrow. Like I said, compete and let's see what happens.”
* The Nats announced right before first pitch that they claimed outfielder Alex Call off waivers from the Guardians and optioned him to Triple-A Rochester, filling the 40-man roster. Call, 27, made his major league debut for Cleveland this season, playing in 12 games. He had two hits, two runs, four walks and four strikeouts.
Drafted by the White Sox in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft from Ball State University, Call is a career .252 hitter with 111 doubles, 12 triples, 52 home runs and 253 RBIs in six minor league seasons.