- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 20, 2008

There’s a reason the Washington Nationals have the worst record in the major leagues and have now lost consecutive 11 games:

They can’t do the little things required to win a ballgame.

They can’t move runners into scoring position. They can’t drive them in from third with less than two outs. They can’t drop a sacrifice bunt. They can’t avoid walking opposing batters at the most inopportune moments. And they can’t make a pitch in the late innings with the game on the line.

Is it any wonder, then, that the Nationals now own a 44-82 record after falling 5-4 to the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park?

Unfortunately for the Nationals, they probably played their best game in a week. Jason Bergmann dominated Philadelphia’s hitters for six innings. Ronnie Belliard went 4-for-4. Jesus Flores had one of his best at-bats of the season, fouling off seven pitches from Joe Blanton before driving an RBI single to left on the 11th pitch he saw.

Alas, those performances became an afterthought at night’s end, done in by a late meltdown that allowed the Phillies to erase a 4-1 deficit.

“We go out there, and we give our best effort every day,” left fielder Willie Harris said. “And today we were right there. We were right there. We just couldn’t close it out, couldn’t finish them off.”

The Nationals could point to various gaffes for contributing to this loss. Harris dropped a shallow-but-routine fly ball in the fifth, which allowed one run to score. Washington stranded runners in scoring position with less than two outs in the second and sixth innings. And reliever Steven Shell hung a breaking ball to Jayson Werth in the eighth, serving up the game-winning homer.

“It was a game where we didn’t execute again and they did,” manager Manny Acta said.

And yet perhaps the most egregious mistake of the evening came from Bergmann at the plate.

Washington led 4-3 in the sixth when Austin Kearns and Kory Casto led off with back-to-back singles. It was an opportune moment for the Nationals to add to their cushion.

But for that to happen, Bergmann needed to drop a sacrifice bunt. Bergmann is 0-for-35 this year. Only 10 men have ever had more at-bats in a full season without recording a hit. Making matters worse, Bergmann has yet to draw a walk or successfully record a sacrifice bunt.

“I suck,” he said. “Not something I’m proud of.”

Bergmann bounced a hard bunt back to the mound to force the lead runner out. Washington failed to score that insurance run, and it proved costly by game’s end.

“I apologize to my team for putting them in a bad spot,” Bergmann said. “I’m working hard every day and trying to get better. It’s hard to hit. I’m not that good at it. I’m just trying to do my best to get better.”

Bergmann’s offensive woes perhaps cost him a win Tuesday night, and his continued struggles leave Acta having to reconsider sending him to the plate in those situations again.

“It doesn’t help him at all,” Acta said. “That’s the difference sometimes between staying longer in a game or getting taken out of a game. The way it goes right now, if the situation rises again, if we need the runs, he’s probably going to have to come out of the game even if his pitch count is low.”

Just another example of a seemingly little thing haunting the Nationals.

“Things are just going bad for us right now,” Harris said. “I don’t know why. I don’t understand it. I’m sure these guys feel the same way. I thought we played a good game tonight. We just didn’t win. We can point and break down a lot of things why we didn’t win it. But I mean, we didn’t win.”

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