Nationals can't fight back against Marlins, lose 3-0

Nationals can't fight back against Marlins, lose 3-0
July 29, 2014, 10:15 pm
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GAME IN A NUTSHELL: On the heels of a gut-punch loss Monday night, the Nationals took the field tonight hoping a big-time performance from Stephen Strasburg would help them put the previous 24 hours well behind them. Strasburg did his part, tossing seven inning of 1-run ball, allowing only Giancarlo Stanton's RBI double in the sixth. But that still wasn't enough.

The Nationals were shut out by Henderson Alvarez, managing only three singles and four walks in seven innings against the All-Star right-hander. They had a couple of opportunities against Alvarez and the Marlins bullpen yet simply could not deliver the one clutch hit it would have required to at least tie this game. And when Jerry Blevins and Aaron Barrett combined to give up two huge insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth, the Nats' chances of a comeback turned bleak.

So now the team that came to town boasting the NL's best record finds itself having lost two straight, with a chance of falling out of first place if the Braves win in Los Angeles later tonight. At minimum, they'll need to win Wednesday's series finale here to avoid a disheartening sweep, a lousy conclusion to their road trip and letting the suddenly resurgent Marlins draw to within 4 games of the division lead.

HITTING LOWLIGHT: The Nationals didn't have many chances tonight, but they had as good a chance as you can get in the top of the second: bases loaded, nobody out. The only problem: They needed somebody from the lower third of their lineup to deliver a big hit. And with Ryan Zimmerman (hamstring) and Jayson Werth (ankle) out, that left Danny Espinosa hitting seventh and Nate McLouth hitting eighth. That's not an ideal situation, and sure enough Espinosa struck out, McLouth lined out (with third baseman Casey McGehee making a nice, lunging catch) and Strasburg grounded out to quash what proved to be the Nationals' best scoring opportunity all night.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: On a night when the Nationals needed him to be at his best, Strasburg was just that. He overcame a misplay by Bryce Harper in left field in the top of the first, stranding a runner in scoring position. He then settled into a nice groove, putting up five straight zeroes while exhibiting his best fastball command in some time. The only blemish was somewhat excusable, considering Stanton's longstanding domination of both the Nats and the National League. Even so, it's hard to take any issue with seven innings of 1-run ball. Strasburg may not have had anything to show for it at night's end, but he certainly did his job in this game.

KEY STAT: The Nationals are now 2-4 since Ryan Zimmerman was injured in Colorado.

UP NEXT: The series (and the road trip) wraps up with a 12:40 p.m. Wednesday matinee. Tanner Roark will be seeking his team-leading 11th win, facing Marlins lefty Brad Hand.