After a 5-3 loss, manager Jim Riggleman said that the Nationals were “going to pass the character test.” Last season’s team under Manny Acta never had that chance, and before the All-Star Break, they were 26-61. The Nats this season, after starting 20-15, have dropped 24 of their last 35, including six straight. They’d have to lose every game between now and the All Star Break to get anywhere close to as rough as last season was. I don’t see that happening.
The Nationals strung together a quality inning in the 4th, as Cristian Guzman lead off with a triple, and the central core of the lineup, Dunn, Willingham and Bernadina would all put the ball in play for singles. With two outs, Wil Nieves (Who? Wil Nieves!) loped a ground ball inside the first basement to drive in Willingham, and cement the 3-1 lead.
Lannan struggled hard today to keep the ball down, but he was emininently hittable. The last time that Lannan went more than 5 innings was June 2nd, and today would be no different than each of his last few starts. The White Sox would rack up 11 hits against him before he was pulled four batters into the fifth inning. After the game, Riggleman would say that he didn’t think that Lannan was injured, as his bullpen sessions were showing promise and control. He also said that Lannan would make his next scheduled start against Baltimore, and that the team would “give him a long leash,” to deal with his struggles.
The Nationals hadn’t lead for 40 innings when they claimed a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning on Sunday afternoon. The team’s offense had been nothing short of lackluster to back up some sterling pitching. They would surrender that lead immediately in the top of the fifth, as the White Sox would knock out John Lannan on four consecutive hits. The lead, brief as it was, was nice to see from an offense that has struggled to put anything resembling a good inning together in some time.
Miguel Batista came on in relief in the fifth to put in some innings, and though he allowed two of his inherited runners to score, a double play off the bat of Chicago rookie Viciedo and a soft liner to Desmond would end the rally. Batistia would get two more innings, both 1-2-3 efforts, before Drew Storen came on to work the eight. Storen was impressive today, putting three K’s on the board in two innings of work, and only allowed a pair of hits and a run in the 9th. Storen’s ERA is now above 2 for the first time this season.
The Nationals did have a few chances to score after the 4th. In the sixth, Willingham smacked a double off the right field scoreboard, but was left stranded by a Bernadina ground out and an Ian Desmond strikeout. In the 8th, Guzman would start the inning off with a single to left, but Zimmerman and Dunn would both strike out swinging, and Willingham would send a ball to the warning track. In the 9th, Bernadina would lead off with a single, but would be erased on a ground ball by Ian Desmond. The Nats brought on Willy Harris to pinch hit, but he’d strike out, as would Pudge Rodriguez to erase the rally. Harris has had a rough stretch of late, hitting just .152 for the season. It confused me a bit to see Harris there, instead of the hot bat of Mike Morse, or even Pudge in that position.
Notes: The Nats brought in over 108,000 for the series against Chicago, their best series of the year…The Nats’ skid of six games is their worst of the season. They had an eight game skid late last year…Their opponent tomorrow, the Royals, come to DC having dropped four of their last five.