By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 19, 2010; D01
MIAMI GARDENS, FLA. -- The statistics that describe the Washington Nationals' offensive futility here the past two days come cascading out of the box scores, wave after wave of head-scratching numbers. The most extreme, and the most telling, might be this: The Florida Marlins claimed the series, two games to one, despite scoring three runs in the three games.
With their 1-0 loss Sunday afternoon before 21,057, the Nationals suffered their second consecutive shutout loss as they heaped frustration on top of frustration. For the second straight game, the Nationals created ample opportunities to slap a digit other than '0' on the Sun Life Stadium scoreboard. It is one thing for rallies to wilt against Josh Johnson, a potential Cy Young Award winner. It is another for them to die against Alex Sanabia, a rookie making his second career start.
The Nationals, despite getting eight hits, loading the bases with one out once and having at least one hitter reach base in seven of nine innings, endured back-to-back shutouts for the first time since Aug. 9, 2008. They managed 19 hits, all singles, in the two games.
Afterward, Manager Jim Riggleman spoke with his players briefly. "Just reminded them that the upside is we're out there, we're on base," Riggleman said. "We're grinding out quality at-bats to get into situations to score runs. We're going to turn it around. We're going to start driving them in."
The last two games, though, stand as missed opportunities. The Nationals allowed two earned runs all series -- including Craig Stammen's one run in six innings Sunday -- and their bullpen allowed no hits and no runs in seven innings. But they went 0 for 18 the past two days with runners in scoring position, and they have not scored in 21 innings.
"The game is based on execution when you've got runners in scoring position," hitting coach Rick Eckstein said. "That's the bottom line. We just didn't execute the last few days."
In 27 innings of this series, the Nationals scored zero runs in 26 of them. They nearly scored in many, including the ninth inning Sunday, which turned darkly comic after Michael Morse's pinch-hit single rolled into right field. Adam Kennedy, who had singled with one out, bolted around second base, trying to put himself in position to score on a sacrifice fly. He realized he wouldn't make it and stopped quickly. When he slammed on the breaks, his leg buckled and his knee hit the dirt.
"I just got out there too far," Kennedy said. "I made it into a pretty bad play."
By the time he stumbled back to second, Mike Stanton's laser of a throw had arrived. Shortstop Hanley Ramírez tagged him. Both Kennedy and Riggleman protested the call, but of course nothing changed, and the game ended moments later when Leo Nuñez struck out Iván Rodríguez.
The Marlins scored their run in the fifth on back-to-back doubles by Emilio Bonifacio and Gaby Sanchez off Stammen. It was not much, but it assured victory against the Nationals, who created an endless string of chances, but also an endless string of zeros on the scoreboard.
On Sunday, the Nationals put the leadoff man on base four times in the first six innings against Sanabia and five times total. Their best chance came in the fourth, when the Nationals loaded the bases in the third inning with one out for Adam Dunn. He struck out three times Saturday with two men on, and in the biggest moment Sunday, he struck out again. Josh Willingham's grounder to third quelled the threat.
Over the past two games, they managed no runs despite 23 base runners, including 11 hits Saturday night. Dunn, who caught fire in the week before the all-star break, has five strikeouts in the past two games with at least one runner in scoring position.
"When guys were on base, we weren't getting it done," Eckstein said. "Plain and simple. Typically in those situations, they tend to pitch us in a different way. We've got to make adjustments. Our adjustments weren't up to par."
Riggleman praised Eckstein, likely the most maniacal worker in the organization. "We're just not getting it done," Riggleman said. Eckstein, typical of his personality, takes the zeros personally.
"Every pitch," he said. "Every pitch."
Before the Nationals go about fixing a problem, Eckstein said, they first must evaluate if there is one. Some hitters have run into hard luck in crucial moments. "Sometimes," Eckstein said, "it's baseball." Other hitters, though, need to craft a better plan when their turn comes up and the Nationals can score.
If they don't, the Nationals will keep obscuring the things they do well, will keep regretting what could have happened.
"We expect a lot of ourselves," Kennedy said. "We know we're a better team than to just play good and be happy with that. Most things we are doing are okay, but we need the end results to be satisfying."