Nats fall to Mets, fail to move to top of NL East

Nats fall to Mets, fail to move to top of NL East
May 17, 2014, 7:00 pm
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GAME IN A NUTSHELL: With an opportunity to beat the Mets for the 10th consecutive time, the Nationals had to like their chances this afternoon. Gio Gonzalez had a track record of dominance against New York's lineup, and the Nats have beaten up on the Mets' pitching staff so far this season.

Then the game started, and nothing went according to plan. Gonzalez was battered around for five runs in three innings, a rare bad start on the heels of another bad start by the left-hander. Bartolo Colon, meanwhile, had his way with the Nationals' lineup, allowing only Ian Desmond's two-run homer in the fourth.

Craig Stammen (four scoreless innings of relief) did everything he could to give his teammates a chance to come from behind, but it wasn't in the script today. A sellout crowd of 41,225 was left disappointed by a lackluster loss, the Nationals' first to the Mets since Aug. 31, 2013.

Adding to the day's frustration: With the Braves loss in St. Louis, the Nationals would have moved into first place in the NL East with a victory. Instead, they remain a half-game back at 22-20.

HITTING LOWLIGHT: Remember the feel-good Danny Espinosa story in April? Well, it hasn't translated to May. The second baseman is back to the form that got him demoted to Syracuse last season. Over his last 13 games, he's 4-for-47 with zero walks and 21 strikeouts. Even with his strong start to this year, if you add up Espinosa's numbers over the last two seasons, it's not a pretty picture: a .188 batting average, .223 on-base percentage and .560 slugging percentage, with 90 strikeouts and only eight walks. Matt Williams has little choice but to keep him in the lineup for now, but Ryan Zimmerman's return is looking more and more significant for the Nationals.

PITCHING LOWLIGHT: In his 2-plus seasons with the Nationals, Gonzalez has pitched a handful of clunkers. But rarely has he ever pitched two of them in a row. Until now. Coming off a wretched outing in Oakland, the left-hander figured to bounce back against a Mets lineup he has historically dominated. But Gonzalez was roughed up for three runs during a 37-pitch first inning, then served up a 2-run homer to Juan Lagares in the third to put his team in a 5-0 hole. So, Gonzalez has now given up 12 earned runs over his last two starts, matching a career-high. Along the way, he has seen his ERA skyrocket from 2.91 to 4.62.

KEY STAT: The Nationals have given up three or more runs in the first inning 10 times this season. MLB's 29 other clubs combined have done it only 58 times.

UP NEXT: The series concludes at 1:35 p.m. Sunday with a strong pitching matchup. Jordan Zimmermann gets the start for the Nationals against fellow right-hander Zack Wheeler for the Mets.