THE RESULTS: The Washington Nationals were handed two more defeats by the Chicago Cubs, who completed a four-game sweep of the worst team in baseball.
Saturday, Washington's defensive indifference led to a three-run inning against rookie pitcher Jordan Zimmermann and the Nats eventually fell 6-5, despite having two on and one out in each of the final two innings.
Zimmermann (L, 3-5, 4.63) was cruising until the sixth. Derrek Lee led off with a ball to left that would have been caught by a man faster than Adam Dunn; instead it went for a ground rule double. The next batter, Aramis Ramirez, bounced one off of second baseman Willie Harris for an error.
So instead of two outs, it's first and third with no outs. After striking out Milton Bradley on three pitches, Zimmermann hung a slider to Alfonso Soriano, who deposited the mistake into the right field bleachers, turning a 4-2 lead into a 5-4 deficit that the Nats would never erase.
Zimmermann finished with five and one-third innings, five runs (four earned) on six hits and one walk. Eight of his 16 outs for the night were via strikeout.
The Nats left 12 men on base.
Sunday afternoon, the Nats were pasted every which way by the Cubs, losing 11-3. Cubs rookie starter Kevin Hart gave up five hits AND five walks in five innings, but the Nats could only push two across the plate.
Washington left nine men on base. Adam Dunn hit his 24th home run of the season in the seventh inning, after the competitive portion of the game had long since finished.
Nats starter Garrett Mock seemed rattled after Alberto Gonzalez let a ball go through him in the top of the fourth inning, and the Northsiders put up seven in the frame, in front of 34,574 mostly Cubs fans.
Mock (L, 0-3, 7.71) went three and one-third innings, surrendering seven runs (four earned) on eight hits and two walks, striking out three. He gave up a massive two-run shot to Alfonso Soriano.
D.C. or Wrigley??? Photo 2009 © Cheryl Nichols. All Rights Reserved.
THE TAKEAWAY: Another lost weekend for the Nationals. Washington actually held the lead in each of the four games. It's time people realized that this offense actually gets WORSE when runners are on base.
The Nats left a stunning 21 runners on base in the two weekend games. Stunning.
THE GOOD: Nyjer Morgan. The leadoff hitter went 5-for-9 with three runs, an RBI and two stolen bases over the weekend.
THE BAD: Alberto Gonzalez. 0-for-8 for the weekend, with a big error Sunday. All those folks that wanted to see more of the Attorney General the rest of the season are going to get their wish. Be careful what you wish for.
THE UGLY: The record now stands at 26-65, on pace for a 46-116 season record.
NEXT GAME: Tonight. The Mets come to town, oh boy. J.D. Martin makes his major league debut against venerable right hander Livan Hernandez (5-5, 5.10), who has dominated the Nats in two starts this season.
NOTES: After the game, the Nats designated RHP Julian Tavarez for assignment and selected the contract of RHP Logan Kensing from Triple-A Syracuse.
Tavarez went 3-7 with one save and a 4.89 ERA this season for the Nats. Recently, however, he had trouble getting anyone out, and his walk rate the last 15 appearances was almost one walk per inning.
Kensing posted 12 saves in 13 opportunities and a 3.91 ERA in 23 appearances during a nearly two-month stint with Syracuse. While with the Chiefs, Kensing walked just five and struck out 24 in 25.1 innings.
LHP Scott Olsen went on the 15-day Disabled List to make room for Martin. Olsen is scheduled to meet with Dr. James Andrews this week about his ailing left shoulder.
THE RESULT: A ball that hit the third base bag and caromed into left center field turned into a run-scoring double as the Washington Nationals lost their 45th game of the season, getting swept by defending A.L. champion Tampa Bay Rays, 5-4, before 25,841 at Tropicana Field.
With one out in the eighth inning, third baseman Willie Harris was in position to field the bouncing ball. It was hit too slowly to get an inning-ending double play, but he surely would have thrown out the less-than-speedy Willie Aybar, who hit the grounder against Ron Villone (L, 3-3, 0.96).
Instead, the play is added to the long list of unusual circumstances contributing to the Nationals now record-setting losing pace, and perhaps to the firing of manager Manny Acta.
There was no new news as of this writing about the status of the embattled manager. But after having to tell the team about the death of Josh Willingham's brother, the added scrutiny from the Fox Sports and Sports Illustrated reports of his imminent demise, and losing the 15th of 18 games, Acta looked visibly tired in the visiting dugout this afternoon.
As they have all weekend, the Nationals jumped out to an early lead. The Rays spotted Washington a 4-0 lead Sunday, paced by Alberto Gonzalez' three RBIs.
But Nats starter Ross Detwiler had a very uneven day. He gave up four earned runs on six hits and a career high five walks. Three of the walks ended up scoring against the rookie stater. Detwiler did not strike out a batter today. He needed 95 pitches to get though five innings, and only threw 48 for strikes.
THE TAKEAWAY: The Nats turned three double plays today, or it would have been worse. Rookie pitchers will have days like this, especially for Detwiler. The lefty pitches across his body, and as such will have days where he loses his release point and lose control of his fastball. He was not sharp, but gutted out a performance that kept his team in the game.
However, the bats once again went silent after the initial salvo. It's almost like they collectively figure that four runs were going to get the job done today.
Adam Dunn struck out twice, including looking at strike three in the seventh inning with runners on first and third.
THE GOOD: Alberto Gonzalez. He went 3-for-4 with a run and three RBIs. He's hitting .319 on the season.
THE BAD: Corey Patterson. Making his first start of the season, he went 0-for-4 in the six-spot, leaving three runners on.
THE UGLY: The play eventually did not matter, but late in the game Willie Harris, giving Ryan Zimmerman the day off from defense, drifted toward the stands to chase a foul pop-up. However, the bullpens at Tropicana Field are in foul territory, and no one warned bullpen catcher Nelson Robledo that Harris was making tracks right toward him.
Just as Harris was getting ready to lift his arms to catch the pop-up, he collided with Robledo, both men tumbling, and the ball fell harmlessly to the artificial turf.
NEXT GAME: The Nationals are off Monday, which is widely expected to be the day Manny Acta is relieved of his managing duties. At this point, it would be shocking if it did not go down later tonight or sometime tomorrow. Nationals Journal reported that Acta did indeed get on the plane to New York though.
Washington continues its interleague road trip in New York against the Yankees on Tuesday at 7:05 pm. Shairon Martis (5-1, 5.04) takes on C.C. Sabathia (5-4, 3.68).