The longest month in the brief history of the Washington Nationals came to a merciful end with a 4-2 victory over the Marlins yesterday afternoon. Livan Hernandez earned his 13th win and ended the Nationals skid with an eight inning, two run effort, and Chad Cordero pitched a perfect 9th for his 35th save. But what a difference a month makes: The Nats entered the month of July with a 47-31 record and proceeded to sweep a three game series from the Cubs in Chicago. From that point on, just about nothing could go right for the team that, for a while anyway, could seemingly do no wrong, and the Nats began their limping descent from the top of the NL East mountain.
Their victory yesterday snaps a six game losing streak and ends what was viewed as their most critical test of the season, a trip through Atlanta and Florida that began with the Nats still tied for first in the NL East. Thanks to a sweep in Atlanta, and losses on Friday night and Saturday in Florida, the Nats finish their six game road jaunt 1-5 and wake up this morning five games out behind the Braves, and one game behind Houston for the lead in the Wild Card. With a 9-18 record for the month of July and 10 straight losses in one run games, it's time for the Nationals to turn the calendar page from July to August, and not look back.
The trading deadline passed yesterday at 4 PM without Jim Bowden dealing away the future to further upgrade the Nats' still-lifeless offense, although if you ask the Chicago Tribune's Phil Rogers, this isn't such a bad thing, since bad deals at the deadline can be 'deadly'. Although the Nats managed 11 hits yesterday, they rank last in the NL in almost every major offensive category, including runs (404), hits (888),homeruns (73), and slugging (.385). Only the Pirates have a worse team batting average than the Nats' .253 average. Frank Robinson has tried shaking up the lineup in recent weeks to remedy the situation, and has been forced to trot out some pathetic lineups due to injury, but at what point does hitting coach Tom McCraw take some of the blame for the team's woeful offensive production? Could a little bit of housecleaning, starting with McCraw, be part of the solution?
After an off day today, the Nats welcome the underperforming LA Dodgers to RFK for three, followed by a visit from the worst first place team in the worst division in baseball, the San Diego Padres, who at 51-54 are tied for first in the NL West with the 52-55 Arizona Diamondbacks.