The Washington Times - May 31, 2011, 10:00AM

Over the course of the last two days, days that included two more brutal one-run losses for the Nationals, the question of luck has been posed several times to Nationals players and coaches. Seven of their last 11 games have been decided by one run. They’ve lost six of them.

“All that stuff about ‘You guys are playing great and we’re playing great and staying in the game,’ at the end it doesn’t add up,” said Alex Cora. “You just want to win.”

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Matt Stairs smokes a ball Sunday afternoon with the tying run on base and it gets hit directly to the right fielder. Sean Burnett induces a ground ball from Phillies’ slugger Ryan Howard and it’s just squirts through the right side for an RBI-single instead of a double play. Ian Desmond gets to a ball even his closer didn’t think he would in an attempt to stop the winning run from coming home and it gets away from him.

Things like this are happening over and over to the Nationals, especially recently, so it raises the question: Are the Nationals simply snakebit? Is it just bad luck?

There were differing views. Desmond denied the notion: “It’s not about breaks,” he said. “It’s about playing baseball, playing the game the right way. I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. It’s not luck. We’re not unlucky. We have runners in scoring position and we can’t score them.”

Manager Jim Riggleman agreed when asked specifically about the play Desmond attempted to make in the ninth inning Sunday: “He made a great effort… It just trickled away. Is that unlucky? We had a chance to have good luck and we just didn’t take advantage of it.”

But there has to be some elements of luck involved.

The Nationals are, as they’ve said repeatedly, doing all of the “little things” right. They run the bases well, they’ve stolen 44 bases already this season — the fourth most in the National League — they bunt well, have played clean defense and gotten their power to come along some with homers in six of the last seven games. 

But with their pitching staff finally starting to show signs of weakness after a superb start (their staff ERA of 3.90 is just below the Major League average), it’s still not adding up to wins. 

“A loss is a loss to me,” second baseman Danny Espinosa said Monday when asked if there was any consolation in scoring four runs off Roy Halladay and being in contention to win. “I don’t accept either one of them, personally. I don’t think that if you play a bad game, it’s just ‘Oh, we just played a bad game and they took advantage of our mistakes.’ It hurts just as much if you play a good game and you lose the game. It hurts and it can take you down just as much.

“It’s tough luck. Sometimes things just go the other teams way.”

It’s been happening more often than not that way for the Nationals, who happen to face Cliff Lee at 7:10 p.m. tonight.