Postgame analysis of the Nats' 4-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Monday night at Camden Yards.
How it happened: Nationals right-hander A.J. Cole was given a heck of an assignment on Monday night.
With Stephen Strasburg unexpectedly back on the disabled list with a right elbow injury, the Nats turned to Cole - he of just three career MLB outings - to face the homer-mashing Orioles at Camden Yards in the series opener in Baltimore. Stepping in last minute like that is not an ideal situation for any pitcher, no matter the experience level, day, opponent or ballpark. Throw in all the factors listed above and you've got a time-tested recipe for disaster.
It wasn't quite a disaster, but Cole struggled against the Orioles, as many would expect him to do. He gave up four earned runs on five hits and two walks.
The good news, however, was that Cole went seven innings. That helped save the Nats' bullpen, which had been weathered by rain delays and short outings from their starters in recent days.
Cole wasn't bad, but Orioles starter Dylan Bundy was better. He went six innings with just two earned runs allowed on three hits. He walked four batters, but did well to limit the damage throughout his night.
Anthony Rendon and Danny Espinosa each hit solo homers for the Nationals. Daniel Murphy drove in another run on a single to score Trea Turner. For Murphy, it was his 90th RBI of the season. Turner scored after notching his 14 steal of the season, which puts him in second on the Nats only behind Bryce Harper, who has 17. Turner has played 35 games, while Harper has appeared in 114.
The Orioles also got two homers, both off Cole. Jonathan Schoop hit a solo bomb in the third, while Mark Trumbo launched a two-run shot in the fourth. It was Trumbo's MLB-leading 38th home run of the season.
Espinosa's homer cut the Orioles lead to one run in the seventh. But star relievers Brad Brach and Zach Britton sealed the deal for Baltimore in the eighth and ninth innings.
The Nationals have lost two consecutive games this season and four straight to the Orioles dating back to last year.
What it means: The Nats fell to 73-51 on the season. Both the Marlins and Mets were off Monday, so the Nationals now hold an eight-game lead in the NL East over Miami. They lead the Mets by 11 games.
Cole goes seven: By saving the Nats' bullpen with seven innings, Cole did all the Nats could ask for, despite the fact he gave up four runs. The Nationals' relief corps is now in much better shape, which is a small victory for them in what amounted to a loss in the standings. Cole struck out eight batters, which set a new career-high. He struck out seven in a relief appearance on May 23 of last year, his last MLB outing.
Rendon hits No. 16: Rendon put the Nationals up a run in the fourth inning with his solo homer. It was Rendon's 16th home run of the season and his third in his last 10 games. His career-high for one season is 21, set back in 2014. In order to match that, Rendon would need five homers by the end of the season and the Nats have 38 games left on their schedule.
Espinosa hits No. 19: It was just this morning that I wrote about how long it had been since Espinosa had hit a homer, how his power outage had taken away one of the skills you can usually point to when defending his value to the Nationals. On Monday, he broke through with a solo homer to center field off reliever Mychal Givens in the seventh inning. It was Espinosa's first home run since July 3, a stretch of 38 games. That's a good sign for a player who has struggled mightily in recent weeks.
Up next: The Nats and Orioles play one more in Baltimore before heading south for two more games at Nationals Park. Rookie Reynaldo Lopez (2-1, 4.37) will square off with O's right-hander Kevin Gausman (4-10, 4.11).
[RELATED: Ross still far from returning, may pitch out of Nats' bullpen]
SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES