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Jayson Werth and his teammates have arrived at a critical juncture of the season.
Let's see what's happened since...
-- Adam LaRoche finally acknowledged his left shoulder was affecting his swing, so he went to New York to get it checked out and wound up on the DL.
-- Jim Riggleman was ejected two pitches into a game on a call even the manager later admitted was correct.
-- Jason Marquis threw a dugout tantrum that left Riggleman describing the right-hander as "about as upset as I've ever seen a ballplayer."
-- Mike Rizzo and Ivan Rodriguez were disciplined by new MLB disciplinarian Joe Torre for their involvement in Thursday's altercation with umpires at Citi Field.
-- Left-handers John Lannan and Tom Gorzelanny each were roughed up for six runs.
-- Drew Storen's 21-inning scoreless streak came to a crashing halt during a mop-up appearance.
-- Rick Ankiel joined Class AA Harrisburg for a rehab assignment and went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, yet is almost certainly going to be activated off the DL in time for tonight's game in Milwaukee.
Oh yeah, and the Nationals have lost three straight games by a combined score of 21-7. Good times, indeed.
As much as they've tried to espouse the belief that one big rally could propel them out of their season-long offensive funk, the Nationals have proven the last three days it doesn't work that way. You don't just flip a switch and expect everything to be OK the rest of the season.
No, it takes time and patience and determination to navigate your way through a 162-game season, one that is sure to include plenty of ups and downs. The key to surviving the marathon, as anyone in baseball will tell you, is to maintain a level of consistency. Don't get too high after the good times. Don't get too low after the bad times.
And, perhaps most importantly, don't ever let things get to a point where they spiral out of control and can no longer be fixed.
Which brings us to the Nationals' current situation. Make no mistake, they've reached a crucial juncture in the season. They've lost five of six (and eight of 11) to fall into last place in the NL East. They're now without their best all-around player (Ryan Zimmerman), their veteran first baseman and cleanup hitter (LaRoche) and their would-be ace (Stephen Strasburg, who did throw off a mound yesterday for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery).
They've still got one of the majors' least-productive lineups. And now a pitching staff that has been this club's backbone through the season's first two months has shown a few signs of cracking, posting a 6.82 ERA over its last four games and putting 53 men on base during that span.
The Nationals haven't been handed any favors by MLB, which has given them the sport's toughest schedule to date (based on opponents' winning percentage). And it's not getting much easier. There are still two more games in Milwaukee, where the Brewers own the NL's best home record. There are three games this weekend against a Padres club that boasts an equally inept lineup. But then come three games against the insurmountable Phillies, followed by a 10-game West Coast trip to Arizona, San Francisco and San Diego.
This has suddenly become gut-check time for the Nats. They desperately want this season to be different than previous ones, and they genuinely believe this team is different.
The next three weeks could tell us whether they've been right all along, or whether very little has actually changed.