PHILADELPHIA -- It may be difficult to remember these things, but the Nationals actually have endured through several losing streaks this season. Indeed, they've experienced five streaks of at least three losses in 2012, and even once lost five straight games.
And how did they respond to each mini-slump? By winning four in a row, three in a row, nine of 11, three of four and six in a row.
Suffice it to say, nobody inside the Nationals' clubhouse following Saturday night's 4-2 loss to the Phillies -- their third straight -- was ready to jump off the Ben Franklin Bridge.
"Three! Ugh, we're ready to quit," Ryan Zimmerman said with tongue firmly planted in cheek. "Everything's going to go into shambles."
Taken out of context, Zimmerman's blase response to a losing streak might be seen as overconfidence on the Nationals part. No one is declaring themselves NL East champs quite yet, though, not with 36 games still to be played, the Braves still lurking 5 12 games back and the Phillies suddenly playing like their old selves again.
"People forget that's a good team over there," Zimmerman said. "I mean, I know they've traded some people away, but any time you have to come in and face their pitching staff it's going to be a tough series. We have our work cut out for us, but as far as a losing streak, I don't think anyone in here is panicking just yet. We'll be OK."
Insignificant losing streak or not, the first two games of this series have exposed a couple of concerns: The importance of Michael Morse and Ian Desmond to the Nationals' lineup, and the continued inability to prevent opposing runners from stealing bases at will.
With Morse (bruised hand) and Desmond (mild hamstring strain) sidelined for the second straight night, the Nationals' lineup was mostly silent against Roy Halladay and two Phillies relievers. Only Steve Lombardozzi's two-out single in the fifth brought any runs home, and the entire lineup struck out a combined 11 times while drawing only one walk.
Some of that, obviously, has to be attributed to Halladay, who after an injury-plagued season is starting to look more like his old self. He exhibited pinpoint control during this start, throwing an astounding 86 of 105 pitches for strikes, hardly any of them thrown on a straight path.
"You know, he's pretty good," Zimmerman said. "He's not throwing as hard as he used to, but that doesn't really make a difference when you can make it move like he does."
Even when the Nationals got Halladay out of the game and got a chance to take their hacks against the Phillies bullpen, they were whitewashed. Left-hander Antonio Bastardo, owner of a 5.26 ERA, struck out Bryce Harper, Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche in succession in the eighth. Closer Jonathan Papelbon then retired the side with two strikeouts in the ninth to earn his 29th save.
Would Morse andor Desmond have made a difference? Who knows, but the Nationals do know they'll be without both guys for Sunday's series finale against Cliff Lee and have to rely on backups to produce as they have through much of this injury-plagued season.
"That's the reason we're in the position we're in," LaRoche said. "We've had guys that filled in all year and kept us in games and won a lot of games. It's nice to have Morse and Desmond in there, but we can get by without them with the bench we've got."
If there's another cause for concern, it's the Nationals' recurring penchant for giving up stolen bases in huge sums. As a team, they've caught only 15 of 107 basestealers after giving up three more during Saturday's game (including two in a row by Chase Utley that led to a key insurance run for the Phillies in the bottom of the eighth).
The Nationals hoped the acquisition of Kurt Suzuki (who led the AL with a 38 percent caught-stealing rate at the time of his trade) would help make a difference. But Suzuki has thrown out only 1 of 15 basestealers as a National, evidence that the problem doesn't lie with this catching corps but with its pitching staff.
On Saturday, reliever Sean Burnett took the blame for allowing Utley to swipe both bases.
"He's beating himself up on it," manager Davey Johnson said. "I mean, the guy was running before he even made a move, and Burnett didn't check him. That can't happen. Those are mental mistakes, not physical mistakes."
In the end, those are relatively minor issues for a ballclub that still owns the game's best record at 77-49, the league's best pitching staff and as much raw talent as any roster in the majors.
Which is why the word "panic" was never uttered once inside the clubhouse following the Nationals' latest loss in a rare losing streak.
"Luckily we haven't had a lot of them this year," LaRoche said. "We've been really good at fighting back after we lose a couple and haven't had that huge skid where everything falls apart. Again, I don't see it happening here."