There are 1001 baseball clichés that can be used to describe the Nationals' recent skid and 7-11 record in July, and even though last night's loss marked the inevitable return of the Atlanta Braves to the top of the NL East heap (Nats and Braves own identical 54-41 records), maybe it's time to dust off a tried-and-true cliché that should act as a Band-Aid and a mantra for the DC baseball fan's soul: "It's a marathon, not a sprint."
As bad as things have gone this month, there would be greater reason to be concerned if the problems were rooted in the pitching, which they're not. It's not as if the Nats' offensive woes are anything new -they've been one of the worst offensive teams in baseball all season long, even back in the glory days when the Nats lead in the NL East was a comfortable 5 1/2 games, and they'd never met a one-run lead they didn't like.
What must be most frustrating to everyone involved: players, manager, coaching staff, front-office, peanut vendors, fans, is that they're not getting blown out. They're losing the kind of game that they won routinely before the All-Star break. Last night's 3-2 loss, with the exception of Preston Wilson's 2-run homer in the 9th, was another exercise in offensive futility: blown chances, three double plays, and boatloads of men left on base. Timely hitting is a thing of the past. Lucky breaks just aren't materializing. Frank Robinson has tried slicing, dicing, and shuffling the lineup, but so far it hasn't made a difference. But there are 66 games left to go in this marathon, and while there are sure to be a lot of slumps, bumps, and bruises along the way, there is still plenty of time to get things back on track.
>Esteban Loaiza wasn't very good last night, giving up 11 hits and three runs in seven innings, but he might have been good enough to win, if not for the aforementioned offensive hibernation. A couple of no-hit, scoreless innings by Joey Eischen and Hector Carrasco were positives for the Nats.
>After getting stifled by the dreadful Rockies, at least last night the Nats had an excuse, facing one of the NL's best in Roy Oswalt, who pitched 8 innings of shutout ball. It doesn't get any easier tonight, when Roger Clemens takes the hill for the Astros. It's up to Ryan Drese to stop the bleeding for the Nats.
>Nats fans, as well as everybody in the organization can breathe a sigh of relief: Livan Hernandez won't be shutting it down and going under the knife after all, following his cryptic comments in the wake of Wednesday night's 3-2 loss to Colorado. He explained his tirade to MLB.com's Bill Ladson yesterday: "The thing I was angry about was my knee...I said I would tell you after the year was over. I was going to have it operated on after the season was over. People have misunderstood that. I didn't feel well last night. I didn't think I was going to walk today. The way I pitched yesterday, I thought my knee was going to explode. The pain hit me hard. I needed to know how I was going to pitch every five days." Not sure what to make of the Livan's "profanity laced tirade" against the assembled Washington media earlier yesterday.
>Jim Bowden explains what it took to seal the deal that brought Preston Wilson to Washington in yesterday's DC Examiner. If you ask SI.com's John Donovan, even if the Nats add another arm and another bat before the trading deadline, it might not be enough: "The problem is, even with more pitching, even if the Nationals take care of some of the holes in that lineup, it still might not be enough for them to hold on to their slim lead in the NL East." So the question remains - will Jim Bowden make another move? Or is Nick Johnson's return to the lineup the final 'upgrade' the team will see before the trading deadline? Could 41 year old Barry Larkin really help?