Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Tonight's ugliness, spelled out in numbers.
"It's not like it's just two or three guys who are struggling," the hurler said. "It's every single one of us. None of us can get them out."
There's an understatement. In five games against the Phillies over the last week and a half, Nationals pitchers have allowed 45 runs, 58 hits (23 of them extra-base hits) and 29 walks. Philadelphia's hitters are batting a collective .326 against Washington, with a .420 on-base percentage and a .965 OPS.
Basically, every Phillies batter who steps to the plate against the Nats this season is Ryan Howard (owner of a career .965 OPS).
Tonight's 14-7 thumping was only the latest in a growing list of lopsided performances. The Phillies have scored at least seven runs in four of five games against the Nats, and the only time they failed to do that, they still scored five runs.
"It doesn't look like they're very scared of us out there," said reliever Jason Bergmann, who allowed two more runs tonight and has been scored upon in three of his four appearances this season.
No, it doesn't. And it doesn't matter who Jim Riggleman sends to the mound. Of the seven hurlers who made cameos in this game, only Miguel Batista tossed a clean inning (and that came in the eighth of an already-lopsided game). Even rookie Jesse English, who wasn't charged with a run, still allowed four hits over 2 2/3 innings and surrendered some hard-hit outs.
The primary blame goes to Craig Stammen, who twice was handed three-run leads and twice squandered them during an abysmal 1 1/3-inning start. The right-hander was torched for seven runs and consistently missed catcher Ivan Rodriguez's target by six or more inches.
"I just didn't throw quality strikes," he said. "I left a lot of stuff up in the zone over the plate."
It would be one thing if Stammen's outing was an aberration, but this has been happening to just about every member of a Nationals rotation that has produced one quality start in eight tries (Livan Hernandez's seven shutout innings Saturday in New York). Washington starters are averaging less than 4 1/3 innings per outing and own a collective 8.82 ERA.
Now, it hasn't helped that they've been forced to face the Phillies' vaunted lineup in five of eight games. Still, the manner in which every Washington pitcher who takes the ball gets lit up by this opponent raises some questions.
Is there a domino effect going on here, or are these simply a bunch of poor individual performances that happen to take place in succession?
"Well, it appears to be the former," Riggleman said. "But there's no reason for that. Each guy goes in there as his own individual, [in a] unique situation he's coming into. And how he feels that night and the quality of his pitches has got to take precedence over everything. The domino thing, it does seem like it's happened. But it shouldn't happen."
There may be one underlying factor to this. When your starter is consistently getting knocked out before the fifth inning, your bullpen is being used in a manner no one wanted. Instead of using your three best relievers in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, you're forced to trot out middling long men while the game still hangs in the balance.
As one Nats pitcher put it: "If our starters are going six innings every night, our bullpen will be better."
Then again, it may not matter what kind of pitching performances Riggleman gets if his offense can't figure out how to sustain some momentum over the course of an entire ballgame. In tonight's bang-your-head-against-the-wall stat, Washington has scored 33 runs in innings 1-through-4 this season but only two runs after that. Two runs in innings five-through-nine. How is that possible?
"The more at-bats we have and the more consistent our approach becomes, I think we'll be fine," said leadoff man Nyjer Morgan, one of six regulars sporting batting averages under .220.
Will they? Will this team suddenly start hitting for the full nine innings, start getting six-plus innings every night from its rotation, start getting quality relief work from every member of the bullpen?
It's hard to believe the light switch is suddenly going to turn on for every under-performing player on the roster at once.