Hot town, summer in the city...and the Nationals continue to tumble, dropping three of four to the Astros. It appeared that the Nats had hit bottom and there was nowhere to go but up after being outclassed by Roger Clemens and nearly pounded back to Montreal 14-1 on Friday night, especially after a 4-2 win and superb performance by Tony Armas (7IP, 1H, 2ER) on Saturday evening. But apparently there was a little more bottom left to go. In spite of a sterling performance by John Patterson (8IP, 6H, 1ER, 10K), the Nats lost a 14 inning heartbreaker yesterday on a 3-run homerun by Eric Bruntlett off Hector Carrasco to drop the series to the Astros and finish their latest homestand at 2-5.
In the four game series, the Nationals and Astros played 41 innings of baseball; the Nats came to bat in 40 of those innings, and managed to score in only four of them. Yesterday, the Nats blew their best chance to take command of a 1-1 game with runners on first and third and nobody out the eighth inning, but Brian Schneider, Ryan Church, and Brad Wilkerson (ground out, ground out and strike out, respectively) couldn't get the job done. The only good news on this day was that Jose Guillen's wrist was bruised, not broken, after being hit by a Dan Wheeler pitch in the ninth inning which forced him to leave the game and be carted off to the hospital for X-rays. Patterson was handed his twelfth no-decision of the year by his offensively-challenged teammates.
Since returning from the All Star break, the Nats are 3-8. 8-13 for July. 3-7 in their last 10. But as bad as things have been going, despite their well-documented offensive woes, they're still tied for first place (55-44) in the NL East with the Braves, who lost 3-2 yesterday and dropped two of three to the Diamondbacks over the weekend. And wouldn't you know it? After an off day today, the Nats head to Atlanta for a three game series, staring down the barrel of a John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, and Mike Hampton trifecta. The trip to Atlanta becomes that much more daunting with news that Guillen might miss the entire series because of his ailing wrist. Nick Johnson is set to return from a rehab stint with AAA New Orleans for the start of the series, but it remains to be seen what he'll bring to the table since he hasn't played since injuring his heel on June 26th.
With three games this week against the Braves and three games on tap for weekend in Florida against the Marlins, the Nats are about to face as important a stretch of games as they've faced all season.