Did I say something about an ominous roadtrip last week?  How a west coast swing could rejuvenate or roast the Nats postseason hopes?  I think it’s more of a roast now…with the cooking temperature more of a charred-medium well.  After an 8-3 win at the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Nationals have dropped six straight (by the composite score of 36-12) to slip under .500 for the first time since May 5th.  Ineffective hitting and poor pitching have cost this club in equal doses during their 4-11 start this month…and now the Nationals are running out of excuses, answers and time.  Forty-five games remain in the 2015 season…and if the first place New York Mets (still sounds funny, I know) simply split their final 44 games the Nats would need to finish 27-18 to force a tie.  A tall task for a team that’s 10-20 since the All Star Break.  How did we get here?

Hopeless Hitting– since the midsummer hiatus, the Nationals rank last in the Majors in hitting and 25th in runs scored.  They’ve also notched the 3rd most strikeouts in the big leagues.  Before the break the club ranked 13th in hitting, 14th in runs scored and struck out the 14th most times in MLB.  Not having Denard Span atop the order to set the table (his 24-26 BB-K ratio is the best on the team) takes a lot of steam out of the offensive engine.  Jayson Werth’s lost season (.145 with 4 extra-base hits since coming off the disabled list) further drags down a lineup that needed a midseason infusion of power.  Can you imagine where this team would be minus “Plan B’s” Michael A. Taylor and Yunel Escobar?

Porous Pitching– the first half of the season was punctuated by Max Scherzer’s no-hitter against Pittsburgh and near-complete game victory against the Orioles to send the Nats into the All Star Break with major mojo.  Since then, not so much.  After going 10-7 with a 2.11 ERA (and just one no-decision), Scherzer has staggered to a 1-2 mark (plus three no-decisions) with an ERA of 5.18.  The rest of the staff has slipped as well…ranking 23rd in ERA after ranking 9th before the break.  In the first half of the season, the Nats allowed the fewest walks– and since the break they rank 10th.  Not horrible, but a major slippage that further exposes a light-hitting offense.  Even the boy of summer (Gio Gonzalez was 5-0 with an ERA of 1.47 over 8 starts since June 21st) wasn’t immune, as Saturday’s meltdown clinched another series loss for the Nats (they’ve won just 2 series since the Break).

Meet the Mets!  Sweep the Mets!– Thankfully the Nationals reside in the worst division since last year’s NFC South.  The New York Mets lead by 4 and a half games–and that’s after getting swept by Pittsburgh.  Now that Yoenis Cespedes is in Queens to prop up a soft lineup, the pitching staff that’s getting the most out of its arms (1st in quality starts and 3rd in ERA) is beginning to hit innings-thresholds they haven’t in their careers.  Will we see skipped starts or the famed “Strasburg Shutdown” with any of their young hurlers?  This week the Mets visit the hot-hitting Orioles (30 runs scored in three weekend wins over Oakland)  and Colorado (whom they swept last week).  For those scoring at home, the Mets Magic Number is a Seaveresque 41.

Bryce’s Bat– despite hitting .217 with one homer and 4 RBI last week, #34 remains in the triple crown hunt.  Harper ranks 3rd in hitting (.328), nine points behind Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt.  He leads the NL in home runs with 30– one more than Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier and Colorado’s Nolan Arenado.  Without a ton of guys on the basepaths to drive in, Harper’s fallen to 5th in RBI– 11 behind Goldschmidt and Arenado.  Behind the big numbers, Bryce remains way in front in slugging (.638).

Last Week’s Hero– Ian Desmond’s already eclipsed his first half home run total– with 8 bombs since the break.  Last week the shortstop hit .333 with 3 HR and 4 RBI while scoring 5 runs.  Despite the fact that even when hitting well he’s a strikeout machine (Desmond’s 131 whiffs rank 5th), it’s nice to see the infielder bounce back from a nightmarish first half.  Sadly, he’s just one guy out of eight in the everyday lineup.

Last Week’s Humbled– Max Scherzer has pitched very well this season.  Last Friday was not one of those moments.  On a night where the team desperately needed a solid outing from their best starter, Scherzer coughed up 6 runs on 7 hits over 3 innings.  The bullpen that could have used a breather instead saw more action…and the Nats instead of turning around a rough week had to deal with a lost weekend.

Game to Watch– Friday the Nats host Milwaukee.  Hopefully they’ll return from the roadtrip in one piece.  Gio Gonzalez (despite his most recent start) has posted the best numbers of any starter this summer (although his numbers include a high pitch count that occasionally gets him out of games earlier than one would prefer).  Plus, the team is giving away Nationals/Miller Lite caps, which I think have bottle openers on the brim.  That won’t ever put out an eye.

Game to Miss– Let the record show I am all in with Jordan Zimmermann.  He should have started Game 1 last year.  He shouldn’t have been pulled in the 9th inning in Game 2.  Even though he’s an impending free agent, I’m hoping they’re able to bring him back in 2016.  After a midseason rough patch, Zimmermann’s put together two solid starts (striking out 15 while allowing 2 ER over 13.2 IP) with nary a win to show for his efforts.  Do I want to see Zim pitch?  Yes.  Do I want to see his efforts wasted on handcuffed hitting or a bullpen blunder?  No thank you.  He pitches in Colorado Tuesday evening…I’ll be watching The Usual Suspects (20th anniversary of its release was August 16th).  Hand me the keys…