Haren can't keep Nats rolling over Mets
As much as they'd like to believe in the idea of momentum, deep down, the Nationals probably know better. Tonight's outcome isn't predicated at all on last night's result. You can win a game in the most dramatic fashion possible, but it won't mean anything if you come back out 24 hours later and play bad baseball.
And in a season filled with some less-than-pretty performances from the Nationals, Wednesday night's 10-1 trouncing at the hands of the Mets might have been the ugliest yet.
So much for building any positive momentum out of Tuesday night's dramatic, come-from-behind victory. Or any other positive development the Nationals have experienced over the last two months that have failed to get this club going on a prolonged, upward track.
"There's really no explanation for it," center fielder Denard Span said. "We just haven't played good. I'm going to be honest. Just all across the board."
They certainly didn't play well Wednesday night. Not at the plate, where despite 10 hits (five of them for extra bases) they managed only one run. And not on the mound, where Dan Haren turned the latest shaky performance in a season that has featured several of them.
The end result: Not only did the Nationals fall back below the .500 mark for the second time in three days, they fell into third place in the NL East for the first time since the final day of the 2011 season.
"It doesn't matter whether or not you're in second or third," Span insisted. "If you're not in first, it really doesn't matter."
Maybe not, but the Nationals now find themselves staring up at not only the Braves but also the Phillies in their division, trailing Atlanta by a full eight games. If you dare calculate the NL Wild Card standings at this early juncture, they sit in fifth place, 5 1/2 games behind the Pirates for the league's final playoff berth.
They find themselves here because they have not been able to sustain any kind of momentum throughout the season's first two-plus months. And because even on nights when they appear to have a favorable matchup, they fall flat.
Haren should have been able to handle Wednesday's Mets lineup, a group that entered play with the NL's worst batting average and second-to-worst slugging percentage. Yet the veteran right-hander was roughed up for five runs and seven hits in only four innings, all five coming around to score on a trio of home runs.
Thus continued a disturbing trend for Haren. He's always had a penchant for serving up homers (more than one per nine innings over his career) but never at this rate (15 in 67 2/3 innings, just a tick under two per nine innings).
"I mean, it's just very disappointing, obviously," the right-hander said. "I feel bad for the guys. I'm letting them down. I can't be this inconsistent. I'm the same guy that five days ago went through one of the toughest lineups in baseball [the Orioles] and kept us there. To lay another egg tonight is just ... I've got to be better. I've got to pick it up for these guys. No one feels worse about it than I do. But what can I do?"
Twelve starts into his Nationals career, Haren now owns a 4-7 record and 5.45 ERA. Six times, he's failed to reach the sixth inning, the last thing the Nationals expected from their previously reliable, $13 million intvestment.
"I've been pitching in the big leagues since 2003," he said. "I don't remember many times as tough as this one, where it was just so up and down, where I feel good one day and so bad the next. Body-wise, I have no excuses. I'm healthy. If it was something, that'd be an easy way out, to say: 'Oh, I'm hurt.' But I'm not hurt. I'm just not getting the job done."
Even had Haren been in top form on Wednesday, it probably wouldn't have mattered much, not with the Nationals lineup once again producing next-to-nothing against suspect pitching. Dillon Gee entered with a 5.68 ERA but proceeded to toss seven innings of one-run ball, scattering nine hits and continually recording big outs when he needed them.
The Nationals put eight men in scoring position over the course of nine innings. Only one of them wound up scoring: Span, in the bottom of the first on Ian Desmond's RBI single. Otherwise, the Nationals went limp at the plate every time they had a chance to drive somebody in, with Jayson Werth alone going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and stranding six runners in scoring position himself.
"Boy, it's been difficult," manager Davey Johnson said. "I mean, it seemed like we were swinging the bats a little bit better tonight and just didn't hit with men on base. It's frustrating, but tomorrow's another day."
Will tomorrow be another day, or will it resemble the previous one? On a few occasions this year, the Nationals appear to figure things out and look like a team capable of going on a nice, sustained run of success. But there have been far more performances like this one, ones in which it's hard to see how they're ever going to dig themselves out of a hole that grows deeper by the day.
"We're better than this," Span said. "Only thing to do, really, is just to keep working and keep grinding. It's a long season. That's all I know."