Free-falling Nationals drop fifth straight

Free-falling Nationals drop fifth straight
July 24, 2013, 12:00 am
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Nats drop another, continue tumble down standings

The Nationals want to believe this will turn around, they really do. They want to believe they've been the victim of bad luck, so much bad luck that the cosmos are bound to repay them one of these days.

"I think at some point, the tide's got to turn," Jayson Werth said. "The luck's got to swing in our favor. And hopefully when it does, we can grab hold of it and run with it."

That may or may not be true, but the following statements absolutely are true in the wake of Tuesday night's 5-1 loss to the Pirates:

— The Nationals have lost five straight games and 10 of 12.

— The Nationals are four games under .500, their lowest point since September 2011.

— The Nationals, at this moment, have more losses this season (52) than the Royals and Angels, the same number of losses as the Mets and Mariners and only one fewer loss than the Cubs.

So what possible reason would these guys have for staying positive as this season, now 100 games old, spirals out of control before their eyes?

"The silver lining is: Really no one else is winning, either," Werth said. "The old cliché stands true: Just one day at a time. We just need to pull back a little bit and put things in perspective and look at the big picture. Right now, things are tough. But all-in-all, I think one day at a time, one pitch at a time and one at-bat at a time, and we need to get this thing turned around."

Yes, the Braves' inability to take advantage of the rest of the division's ineptitude does leave the door slightly ajar. As bad as things have been, the Nationals have dropped only one game in the standings over the last 10 days, falling from seven games back to eight games back in the decidedly weak NL East.

But one of these days, they're going to have to actually starting winning ballgames again, something they haven't done since before Bryce and Ron Harper competed in the Home Run Derby.

It wasn't going to happen on Tuesday, not with this wholly unproductive lineup stymied once again, this time by Pittsburgh rookie Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 draft pick in the country only two years ago. Cole held the Nationals to one run (Wilson Ramos' homer) and two hits over seven strong innings, barely breaking a sweat and allowing only one of the final 16 batters he faced to reach base.

"I tip my hat," manager Davey Johnson said. "That guy's got good stuff. ... I can see why he was the No. 1 pick."

The Nationals sent their own rookie right-hander to the mound, and though he wasn't nearly as accomplished or hyped as Cole when he made his debut this summer, Taylor Jordan has certainly held his own in the big leagues and shown signs of improvement each time he has taken the mound.

Jordan's final line on Tuesday night — five runs (four earned) in 7 2/3 innings — doesn't do the performance justice. Done in by shaky defense behind him early, Jordan was highly effective through most of his outing and was given the opportunity by Johnson not only to pitch the seventh inning for the first time as a big leaguer, but to return for the eighth as well.

That might have been asking for too much, though, because Jordan served up an opposite-field homer to Pedro Alvarez with two outs in the eighth, then surrendered a single before Johnson finally took the ball from him.

"I was going to take him out [before Alvarez's at-bat], but I thought he deserved a chance to win that ballgame," the manager said. "Just made one bad pitch to him, hung a changeup. But Taylor pitched one heck of a ballgame, right when it was needed — our bullpen was in shambles — and did a great job. He deserved better."

Five starts into his career, the 24-year-old Florida native has posted a solid 3.68 ERA. But he has yet to receive the offensive or defensive support to earn the first win of his career.

"I would love to get a first win," he said. "I really wanted the win today, because we needed it. I would love to celebrate one time."

So would the Nationals, who haven't had a chance to crank up the clubhouse stereo for quite some time. It will happen again, of that there is no doubt.

But at this rate, it may be too late to matter much for this ballclub.

"I've said it before: I believe in this team," Werth said. "And I know it's getting into late July, but still a lot of ballgames to be played. I still believe in these guys."