Offense struggles again against AL East leaders
A series that began with such high hopes ended in frustration Sunday afternoon. The Nationals were never able to match the red-hot New York Yankees this weekend, and the final proof was a 4-1 loss that completed a decisive three-game sweep.
Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano hit solo home runs for New York, and pitcher Ivan Nova kept a struggling Washington lineup off balance for 72?3 innings. And so a team that entered the weekend 15 games over .500 suddenly found itself down to 12 over.
"We've got some work to do," said first baseman Adam LaRoche, who provided the Nats with their only run on a second-inning homer. "Tough series, but we got outplayed. We got beat. ... Not a lot of breaks three straight days."
|» Washington designated right-handed reliever Brad Lidge for assignment Sunday. Lidge, signed to a one-year, $1 million contract, had a 9.64 ERA.|
|» The Nats replaced Lidge with right-handed reliever Ryan Mattheus, who had been on the disabled list with plantar fasciitis and missed 28 games. In 20 appearances with Washington this season, Mattheus has a 2.21 ERA.|
|» Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is struggling. He was 0-for-4 on Sunday against New York and is 4-for-33 with two walks since June 9.|
The Yankees (40-25) left town as baseball's hottest team with a nine-game winning streak in hand. Washington (38-26) actually suffered little collateral damage despite the three losses. That's because the rest of the National League East had an awful weekend, too. The division went a combined 2-13, with the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies also getting swept. The Nats lost just one game in the standings to the Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins and remain four games ahead with a day off scheduled for Monday. There was little solace taken in that, however.
"We lost, so we're not very happy about that," rookie outfielder Bryce Harper said.
Nova allowed seven hits and a walk and pitched into the eighth inning before New York's bullpen recorded the final four outs. Harper was stranded at second base in the third inning. In the fourth, Danny Espinosa smashed a ball directly at Cano, the second baseman, for an unlucky 4-6-3 double play with runners at the corners and one out. Jhonatan Solano was left at second base with one out in the fifth. Espinosa reached first base in the seventh and Harper in the eighth, and neither made it any farther.
"You especially need the guys in the middle of the lineup to do the things they're capable of doing," manager Davey Johnson said. "And that's what we've got to get going."
Nats starter Edwin Jackson did his best to keep his team close. With the bases loaded and one out in the first inning, he escaped after allowing just one run. But Jackson needed 110 pitches to get through six innings as the Yankees' lineup grinded out one at-bat after another. He gave up two runs on seven hits with three walks. Cano homered off Washington's bullpen in the seventh, and Mark Teixeira later scored from third in that inning on a passed ball charged to Solano as reliever Ryan Mattheus failed to cover home.