For months the Washington Nationals have pleaded for patience, begged for a little leeway and insisted that things would not always be as consistently inconsistent as they seem. Their point was simple: there is a run of sustained success coming, their talent would make sure of it. But when?
If it was going to arrive at any time, in the midst of a seven-game stretch against the New York Mets and the Milwaukee Brewers — two ballclubs at least 10 games below .500 and languishing near the bottom of their respective divisions — seemed like a good one.
The signs that things might turn were there, too. The Nationals’ offense pounded their opponents on Sunday and Monday. Finally they were close to fully healthy. This had to be it, right?
A 4-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday night dropped the Nationals back to .500 for the 19th time this season. With an offense that’s gone back into hibernation and scored just once since Monday, any progress they’d made, as far as the standings were concerned, was again moot.
Moments after they scored one runs or fewer for the 23rd time this season, manager Davey Johnson started blankly ahead in his postgame press conference. He was admittedly out of explanations.
“I don’t have any answers,” Johnson said, struggling to find the reason for why his lineup, filled with talent, continues to underachieve so frequently.
“(Kyle Lohse) pitched a good ballgame. He was using both sides of the plate. A little breaking ball. But just kind of… nothing. Getting nothing going.”
A reporter began to ask another question about the team’s offensive futility — they did not advance a single runner past second base until Anthony Rendon’s solo home run cleared the left field fence in the seventh inning — being particularly painful given their 23-run explosion at the start of the week.
Johnson only shook his head.
“I know,” he said. “It’s putting me in the looney bin.”
Lohse did well to keep the Nationals from generating much of anything for the better part of eight innings, but the Nationals watched multiple well-struck balls nestle comfortably into the gloves of Brewers outfielders, too. Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez twice robbed Bryce Harper of extra bases.
The Nationals made 14 outs in the air before Rendon connected with a first-pitch curveball from Lohse with two outs in the seventh inning.
After his exit, the Nationals tried to use the final three outs they had to play with to make some noise off Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez. Ryan Zimmerman stroked a one-out single to right. Ian Desmond worked a six-pitch walk. Rendon connected with another ball that sent what was left of the 28,920 fans in attendance into a hopeful tizzy — until it fell into Gomez’s glove at the edge of the outfield grass.
“Baseball,” Rendon said. “It’d be nice if we could score 13 runs every game, but that’s just not how baseball is. Some games you score a lot of runs, next game you don’t score as many.”
That left them able to give little help to Ross Detwiler, who opened with four scoreless innings — mixing his pitches well and working in a good curveball to the Brewers hitters — but faltered in the fifth and sixth when the first two batters reached base.
In the fifth it was a double and an infield single by the bottom of the Brewers’ lineup that felled him on Norichika Aoki’s single. In the sixth it was a line drive into and out of Bryce Harper’s glove, followed by a base hit, that cost Detwiler when Logan Schafer sent a triple to right center field.
“There was just two at-bats there where, when it was time to make a pitch, I didn’t,” Detwiler said. “I kind of threw the ball straight down the middle on both of them and they did what they needed to do to score runs.”
Which is exactly what, for most of the night, his team could not do.
Back in the press conference room, Johnson continued to spin his wheels in an effort to figure out what is plaguing his hitters. In 14 hours, his team would be right back on that field giving it another try in an 11 a.m. game for the July 4 holiday.
“It looks like we’re giving good at-bats, we’re just not getting it done,” he said, before repeating himself. “I don’t really have any answers.
“I’m glad we’re coming back early in the morning to get this taste out of our mouth. I’m happy for that.”