Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ryan Zimmerman's two solo homers accounted for the Nats' entire offensive output.
But sometimes we tend to overanalyze these things. The Nationals had an opportunity -- make that plenty of opportunities -- to win today's series finale at Petco Park. They came up short. Just as they've done a number of times this season.
Every game this team plays comes down to the wire. Of the Nats' 51 games played so far this season, 30 have been decided by two runs or fewer. The trend has only picked up over the last month. Twenty of their last 25 games have been decided by two runs or fewer. (They're 9-11 in those games.)
Maybe it's just time to come to the following conclusion: This is who the Nationals are.
They're a decent team -- not a great one, not a horrible one -- that plays tough almost every single night and almost always gives itself a chance to win. Sometimes it wins. Sometimes it loses.
Clubhouse members will point out they've faced a difficult schedule in the season's first two months, and emerged with a respectable 25-26 record.
"Any time you play teams that were in the playoffs last year or are going to be close to the playoffs this year, there's not going to be many blowouts," Ryan Zimmerman said. "I think when good teams play good teams, it's close. One run, two runs, three runs. If you get a five or a six-run win, it's kind of rare.
"I think all of us are happy with where we are right now. Now it's time to take that next step and go forward."
Ah, the "next step." It's no longer good enough for this club to play tough and hover around the .500 mark. The Nationals believe if they can just score a few more runs and make a few more pitches in crucial spots, they'll start turning these 1-run losses into 1-run victories.
And perhaps they will. Perhaps Nyjer Morgan will start getting on base with more regularity and turn Zimmerman's solo homers (he hit two of them today) into bigger blasts. Perhaps Roger Bernadina will find some semblance of consistency at the plate and not look overwhelmed three out of every four times he digs in. Perhaps Ivan Rodriguez will come back healthy in a week and pick up where he left off, hitting at a .325 clip for the rest of the season and drive in more runs.
"Right now, we're not scoring," Jim Riggleman said. "But we've got good hitters. It's the nature of the game. You go through these things. Atlanta's probably tied for first right now after not being able to get any hits earlier in the year. That's what we're going to do. We're going to come out of this."
Or perhaps this is simply who the Nationals are: a team with good pitching but not a ton of offensive punch, that is destined to play low-scoring, tight ballgames every night.
"It's better than not being in every game," Kennedy said. "You're always in the game and have a chance to win. One hit away. One rally away. It's better than not being in these games."
True enough. Kennedy wasn't around the last two years, but he knows what this club went through. One-run losses may be tough to swallow as they happen, but these are a lot more tolerable than the losing streaks of 2008 and 2009 that featured all manner of disaster on the field.
The Nationals are no longer among the worst teams in baseball. They're incredibly average. They don't win games in bunches. They don't lose games in bunches.
They win some close games. They lose some close games.
And barring some kind of dramatic altering of events, they'll probably keep playing this way all summer and into September.