Postgame analysis of the Nats' 5-1 loss to the Miami Marlins on Thursday afternoon at Marlins Park:
How it happened: Some days even the best pitchers just don't have it and that was certainly the case for Nationals ace Max Scherzer on Thursday. The right-hander was damaged early by the Marlins and found the strike zone elusive through five innings, as the Nats fell 5-1 to the Marlins to split their four-game series in Miami. Bryce Harper launched his eighth homer of the season in the first inning, but that was it for the Nationals' offense against Miami starter Tom Koehler and the bullpen behind him. The Marlins were much more fortunate against Scherzer, even without Giancarlo Stanton and Dee Gordon in their starting lineup.
What it means: The Nationals got a series split with the Marlins, which is a decent outcome for a road tilt against a talented Marlins team. Now they turn their attention to the Twins for a three-game interleague series, a team they saw twice earlier this month in exhibition matchups. After the Twins are the Phillies for three games, and one could argue this is an important homestand, regardless of the opponents. That is if you consider what follows on the Nats' schedule. They go at St. Louis, Kansas City and Chicago (Cubs) before returning home to face the Tigers. After the Tigers it's the Marlins, Mets, Marlins, Mets and then the Cardinals again. That's a brutal stretch and one that may tell us a lot about these new-look Nats.
Scherzer a little off: Scherzer found trouble early on Thursday with three runs in the first inning and a few adventures in his aim for the strike zone later on. Of the 54 pitches he threw in his first two frames, 25 of them were balls. One of those was a wild pitch in the second inning that missed the strike zone by about two feet. That runner, Jeff Mathis, would later score on a single by Martin Prado. The three runs in the first inning all came on a homer by Marcell Ozuna, who was filling in as the cleanup hitter for Stanton. Scherzer ended up making it five innings with eight hits, two walks, a wild pitch and one hit batter on 99 total pitches (64 strikes). He left the mound with a 4.32 ERA and has now allowed five homers in four starts.
Harper does it again off Koehler: Harper clubbed his sixth career homer off Koehler on the first inning on Thursday, the most he's ever hit against one opposing pitcher. This one came on the first pitch he saw from Koehler and it landed in a garden in center field. It was Harper's eighth homer of the season in 14 games. He now has an RBI in eight straight outings, which is the second-longest streak in Nats history to Ryan Zimmerman, who did it in nine consecutive games in 2012. Harper's big swing also gave the Nats six homers at Marlins Park in a span of 13 innings dating back to Tuesday's game when they clubbed four in the top of the seventh alone. Those six homers matched the Nats' total for all of 2016 at Marlins Park (9 games). Sure, the Marlins brought in the fences and lowered them a bit, but that's just ridiculous.
Murphy's hitting streak ends: Daniel Murphy did something extremely rare these days: he didn't get a hit. That snapped a 12-game hitting streak for the Nats second baseman and marked just the second time in 15 appearances with Washington that he's gone hitless. Murphy did reach base on a hit-by-pitch in the fourth inning. And even after going 0-for-3 on Thursday, Murphy's batting .404.
Some are still struggling: It was a tough day for the Nats' lineup overall, as they mustered just two hits (one an infield single) and one walk against the Marlins. Matt den Dekker went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts batting leadoff. Clint Robinson went 0-for-3 filling in for Zimmerman. Michael Taylor went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. Danny Espinosa went 0-for-2 with a HBP. den Dekker is now hitless in 13 at-bats since his go-ahead RBI in Atlanta on April 6. Robinson has just one hit in 16 at-bats (.063 BA) this season. Taylor is hitting just .175 with 22 strikeouts in 14 games. And Espinosa is batting .163 with four hits in his last 13 games.
Up next: The Nats return to Washington for a six-game homestand beginning with the Minnesota Twins on Friday night. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. with Gio Gonzalez (0-0, 0.69) and right-hander Kyle Gibson (0-2, 3.57) set to start.