After splitting their four game set in Milwaukee, the Washington Nationals looked like they might be on their way to righting the ship again. The offense still looked a little shaky, but the starting pitching that Joe Ross and Max Scherzer had provided over the weekend was certainly cause for optimism. Unfortunately, they looked very much like the club that we've seen for the past few weeks on Monday night in Tampa Bay.
Rays starter Erasmo Ramirez was less than spectacular on Monday. The Nats got at least one runner on base in each of the first five innings against Ramirez. Ramirez allowed five hits, walked three, and even hit a batter in his six innings of work, but somehow skated through his outing without allowing a single run. The Nats stranded the bases loaded in the third inning (Ramos grounder to SS) and fifth inning (Robinson liner to Elmore). They just couldn't break through. The Nats ended up stranding twelve baserunners in the game, which generally isn't the way that you win ballgames. Then again.......
The Rays stranded thirteen baserunners in yesterday's 6-1 win over the Nats. Gio Gonzalez was absolutely terrible. He walked three, hit a batter, and allowed eight hits in 3.1 innings. Gio was all over the place from the get-go on Monday. He loaded the bases and pulled a Houdini act in the first inning. He was lucky to limit the damage to two runs after the first four reached in the third. He left with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth only to see Taylor Hill escape that inning without further damage. Gio's overall performance last night looked more like that of a pitcher who would have allowed seven or eight runs than five.
Hill wasn't much better. He kept the deficit manageable, but he had a little help from the Rays in doing so. He allowed 3 hits and 3 walks while hitting a batter in 3.2 innings, but had Ramirez-like escapability. Hill stranded all three of the baserunners he inherited in the fourth and somehow allowed just one run despite allowing almost two baserunners per inning on the day. Like the Nats, Tampa Bay stranded the bases loaded twice and ended another inning by hitting into a double play with the bases loaded and one out.
If I didn't already know that the Nats and Rays were both near the top of their divisions, I would have assumed that last night's matchup was between two last place teams scrapping for top five draft picks. The pitching was awful on both sides. The offenses couldn't take advantage of the opportunities that the opposing pitchers handed them on a silver platter. The Nats defense wasn't crisp, as two of Tampa's singles in Gio's final inning were grounders through the third base hole that a better third baseman may have gotten to. Unfortunately, with all of the fail from both teams, they couldn't even give us a competitive game, since the Rays did finish on a couple of their early chances.
The Nats have three more games against a scrappy Tampa Bay team that's in first place despite even more injuries than the Nats have dealt with. It's June 16... It's not really early anymore. Excuses for the uneven play are drying up. Hopefully these next three games will be better played... by both sides.