Nats lose series in dud vs. Marlins (updated)

The Nationals desperately want their 12 remaining games with the Phillies and Braves to be meaningful. The way they’ve been playing against the Marlins suggests those games with the National League East’s top two contenders aren’t going to matter.

In their latest - and most aggravating - performance vs. the division’s cellar-dwellers, the Nationals were trounced by Miami 12-1 this afternoon, capping an ugly weekend with one of the ugliest losses of a season that is on the verge of being pronounced dead.

“In all honesty, it was an ugly game,” manager Davey Martinez said. “And everybody saw it.”

After dropping two of three to a going-nowhere Marlins team that hadn’t won a series in D.C. since May 2014, the Nats are back under .500, unable to gain any ground on a Braves club that just lost four straight to the Rockies but doesn’t have to worry about the third-place team trying to catch it.

Yes, they’ll be sending their three best starters to the mound this week against Philadelphia - including Stephen Strasburg, set to return from the disabled list Wednesday - but the Nationals are well past the point where one big series against a division rival is going to be enough to resurrect the season. After going 4-9 the last two weeks, and after watching every aspect of their roster get exposed in one fashion or another, these guys are on life support.

“A good week or two, a sweep of two teams that are ahead of us, can get us right back in the ballgame. But we’ve got to do it now,” Adam Eaton said. “Last week. A month ago. We’ve got to get going if we want to play in October.”

If the Nationals don’t get there, Gio Gonzalez, will have played a major role after a summer-long swoon that reached new depths this afternoon during a ghastly start.

Gonzalez needed only six pitches to complete a 1-2-3 top of the first, giving a crowd of 31,435 reason for optimism. Optimism that disappeared into thin air with each subsequent inning.

Gonzalez-Starry-W-sidebar.jpgGonzalez gave up back-to-back, two-out hits in the second. Though he escaped without any damage, the downward trajectory was in motion. The top of the third featured a pair of walks, then back-to-back hits to center field that could have been caught but were not caught by Bryce Harper (one a blooper that landed just in front of him, another a line drive that just cleared his glove after he got a poor initial read off the bat).

Harper would later drop a line drive for a two-base error, eliciting some boos from a crowd that had long since had enough with this game.

“Had a ball in center that I could possibly could’ve made,” Harper said. “I don’t know. Just got to grind. Just got to battle.”

“Just a rough day out there for him,” Martinez said. “One ball took off on him, he dropped one ball. But that was it. He’s been playing really well.”

The most vociferous boos of the afternoon came not after a defensive miscue but in the top of the fifth as Martinez walked to the mound to remove Gonzalez from the game. The left-hander faced seven batters in the inning, four of them reaching via hit, another via intentional walk.

And when Greg Holland entered and promptly surrendered a two-run single, the book closed on Gonzalez with a thud. He was charged with eight runs on 10 hits and four walks in only 4 2/3 innings.

It was a new low point in a summer of diminishing returns for Gonzalez. Way back in early June, he was 6-2 with a 2.27 ERA and visions of pitching in the All-Star Game in his home park. Over his last 13 starts, Gonzalez is now 1-8 with a 7.07 ERA and 1.91 WHIP, resigned to pitch out the string now before hitting free agency this winter.

“As a pitcher, you pride yourself on competing and trying to go out there and go the distance,” the 32-year-old said. “It’s just one of those things. If I had the answer to it, we wouldn’t be talking about it. But as far as I know, I’m going to continue to do the best I can, work hard, represent the Nationals the right way, and hopefully we can talk about it again in a different situation.”

The runs kept on coming against mop-up man Tommy Milone: two more in the sixth, one in the seventh, one in the eighth. By that point, trailing by double digits and surely looking ahead to an off-day Monday, the Nationals lineup went into “get-it-over-with” mode. They scored one run in the bottom of the third against José Ureña. They didn’t record another hit against the Marlins right-hander.

And so here come the Phillies, trying to reach the postseason for the first time since 2011, when the Nationals were also-rans who finished one game under .500.

One game under .500? Sounds familiar.

“I think when you get beat 12-1, or whatever it was, I think you kind of assume what happened,” Harper said. “Take it how you want and try to go about it the right way tomorrow, enjoy your off-day and get ready for a big series against Philly.”

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