It started off well for the Nationals. Ross Ohlendorf was perfect through three innings and had faced the minimum heading into the sixth, and that is where thing unraveled. First the Nats would take a two run lead in the bottom of the fifth on a Jayson Werth bases loaded walk that ignited a few fireworks. Alex Wood upset that a borderline call didn’t go his way marched off the mound towards umpire, CB Bucknor. Fredi Gonzalez would come out to make sure his pitcher stayed in the game and Gonzalez was indeed ejected instead.
Alex Wood still wouldn’t make it out of the inning. After the Werth walk Bryce Harper laced a sac fly to center that scored Denard Span. That would be all the Nationals would get. They could turn seven hits and three walks into no more than two runs. It has become a common theme for the Nationals and although the offense has been much improved in the second half these types of games still creep in, and the reason the Nats struggled to score is easy to deduce. All of their hits were singles. Not a single extra base hit was had to move runners around the bases more quickly, and that has been one of the key differences between the Nats and Braves when they play this season.
Many of the games have been close and like this evening’s game, decided by three runs of less, but the Braves do the things that matter. They get the extra base hits, their bullpen holds the line, and they play tight defense. That isn’t what the Nationals do when they play the Braves and it once again cost them. On the first pitch of the sixth inning Dan Uggla got the Braves second hit of the night, a towering homerun. On the second pitch of the sixth inning Jordan Schafer laid down a perfect bunt and Ohlendorf threw it away and Schafer took third. Ohlendorf would get the next two batters out and it looked like he was just about out of the inning, but then Justin Upton hit the first pitch he saw into the red seats in center field
It is a deflating feeling to watch a team that struggles to score runs eek out two and then give all of those and more back the very next half inning. It is something that can’t happen, and it isn’t Ohlendorf’s fault. He simply isn’t that good of a pitcher. There is a reason the Nats got him on a minor league deal when very few pitchers wanted to come to Washington on a minor league deal this past off-season, and there is a reason that Tanner Roark ended up taking his rotation spot.
With the loss tonight the Nats can realistically lose one more game and make the post-season. That would give them 90 wins. A 90 win season is a good season. It would be a miraculous comeback for the Nationals and it is highly unlikely at this point, but everything should be measured off of 90 wins, because even before the second Wild Card 90 wins would typically get a team to the post-season. This loss didn’t doom the Nationals. They took two of three from the Braves with Haren, Roark, and Ohlendorf pitching in the series. If this were June or July that would means something, but it is September and the Nationals are in a position where every game has to be treated as an elimination game.
The Marlins come into town for a four game series starting tomorrow, and if the Nats hadn’t piled dirt on the early hole they dug three of four would be fine, but they can only lose one more game and have to play the Cardinals in St. Louis and the Diamondbacks in Arizona to end the season. They cannot afford a single loss to the Marlins. They must play like there is no tomorrow, because if they loss their likely isn’t. This loss wasn’t the final nail in the coffin, but it was the back swing on a finely lined-up shot.