Since the All-Star break (and in the few games leading up to the break) the Nationals have lost in such a consistent way that it's hard to say the wheels are coming off, but that's certainly the feeling one gets a day after another disappointing loss in which the Nats squandered a number of opportunities to win the game.
Had he been pitching against a better team, Livan Hernandez probably would have given up more than three runs. But, luckily, he was pitching against the Colorado Rockies, one of the worst teams in baseball and the league's worst road team. Hernandez gave up eight hits, two walks, and hit four batters in only seven innings. That's 14 baserunners in seven innings and still the Rockies could score only three runs. Two of them came when J.D. Closser, he of the anemic .379 slugging percentage, hit a home run in the top of the sixth.
It's hard, though, to blame this loss on pitching. Three runs over nine innings should win most games, but the Nationals aren't like most teams. The Nats don't score nearly as many runs as teams like the Atlanta Braves, who are averaging almost five runs per game. So, holding the opponent to three runs doesn't buy much peace of mind, especially lately. The Nationals left seven men on base, all of them in scoring position.
One of their best scoring opportunities came in the bottom of the eighth, when Jamey Carroll walked and then went to second on Jose Vidro's bunt. Unfortunately, neither Brad Wilkerson nor Jose Guillen could drive in Carroll. We'll say more later about the bunt, but the bottom of the eighth was a pretty good metaphor for the Nationals' play right now.
The Nats are only 1/2 game up on the Braves, and they'll have to play a whole lot better if they're going to maintain any lead in the National League East. If anyone had any doubts before last night, those doubts should be gone by now: the Nationals need more offense, and if they are going to compete for the division title their first priority in any trade should be acquiring big bats .