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Posted at 02:20 AM ET, 04/30/2012

How will the Nationals respond to their first losing streak?


The Nationals have experience rebounding from four-game losing streaks, but not with the stakes they have created for themselves this April. It matters now. The next few games, or even the next few series, won’t strictly dictate the Nationals’ season, not unless abject disaster strikes or more players join the six-man cluster on the disabled list.

But still, how Nationals get up off the mat, starting Tuesday at Nationals Park, will affect the tenor of their early season. Will they erase their incredible 14-4 start? Or will they dismiss the final four games of their West Coast swing and start to build on it again? Can they scrounge up enough runs with Ryan Zimmerman out of the lineup?

“We’re playing good,” Jayson Werth said. “You can sit here and complain about the hitting all you want. But winning games is most important, no matter how you do it.”

They need to remember that 14-8, tied for first place, remains a promising beginning, even if the most recent stretch has turned it a little sour. But it could turn even worse if the Nationals cannot start scoring more and striking out less. The Nationals’ amazing pitching staff did not allow more than four runs in any of the six games on their road trip, and yet still went 2-4. That can happen when you score 2.6 runs and strike out 9.2 times per game, as they did out west.


(Mark J. Terrill - Associated Press)
Their pitching staff meant all four of the Nationals’ losses were tougher on their nerves than their run differential. Three of the losses came by one run, and the other by two. This year, the Nationals would be 20-2 if they won every game decided by one run or in extra innings. If they had scored 3, 4, 5 and 3 runs the past four days, they would be 18-4 right now.

For the Nationals to continue their great start, their offense needs to score enough to not rely on winning all their games close and low-scoring. With Zimmerman out until at least Sunday, others need to carry the load. The Nationals counted on Danny Espinosa, with his ability to work counts and crush the ball, to take a significant step forward. They are still waiting — he’s run into some bad luck with line drives, but he’s also hitting .205/.300/.269 with 27 strikeouts in 21 games.

No matter what happens this homestand, the Nationals will still have a solid start. Even with a 1-5 train wreck against the Diamondbacks and Phillies, the Nationals would still stand at better than .500 with more than three-quarters of the season left. In baseball’s marathon season, no stretch of six games can define much of anything. But it can illuminate certain things, like whether or not a team, without its best player, responds to its first major setback.

FROM THE POST

As Bryce Harper went 1 for 3 with a memorable catch, the Nationals lost 2-0 to the Dodgers, their fourth straight loss.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

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Nats-Dodgers discussion

Hairston’s cheeky slide

DeRosa on the DL with oblique strain

Why did Gorzelanny face Kemp?

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Charlotte 5, Syracuse 2: Carlos Rivero went 2 for 4 with a home run. Yunesky Maya allowed five runs in seven innings on eight hits and a walk, striking out one.

Bowie 8, Harrisburg 7: Destin Hood went 2 for 4 with a walk. Jesus Valdez went 4 for 5. Jeff Mandel allowed six runs in 5 2 / 3 innings on 10 hits and two walks, striking out four.

Potomac 2, Myrtle Beach 1: Matt Swynenberg pitched a complete game, allowing one run in nine innings on three hits and a walk, striking out two. Kevin Keyes went 1 for 3 with a double.

Augusta 2, Hagerstown 0: Alex Meyer allowed two runs in 5 2 / 3 innings on seven hits and two walks, striking out eight. Cutter Dykstra went 2 for 4 with a walk. Matt Skole went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.

By  |  02:20 AM ET, 04/30/2012

 
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