Of all the reasons why the Nationals have fallen short of expectations in 2015, of all the persistent problems that have stood in their way, the continued squandering of opportunities has loomed as large as any.
Time and time again the schedule has favored the Nats, or their opponent has gifted them breaks on a given night. When this long and trying season finally comes to an end, one thing no one will be able to say is that the Nats were not given chances to capitalize on the misfortune and mistakes of others.
On Tuesday night it was a loss by the New York Mets that opened the door for a chance to gain precious ground in the NL East. It was three errors committed by the Baltimore Orioles and five walks issued by their starting pitcher, Ubaldo Jimenez. All those factors came into play, yet the Nationals still couldn't take advantage and make something of their circumstances.
Those fortuitous breaks are the kinds of things that make losses hurt even more when you add them all up. It's not just a defeat, one game out of 162. It's what could have been if they didn't blow such a favorable chance.
"Tonight [the Mets loss] didn't matter because we didn't win," Bryce Harper said.
"Those are the opportunities you want to take and we couldn't do it today," Jose Lobaton added. "We tried, but we just couldn't do it."
Jimenez was effectively wild on Tuesday night, somehow overcoming five walks to allow only one run (0 ER) on three hits. He and the Orioles gave the Nats their best opportunity in the fourth with a pair of errors and an infield single.
The first error allowed Clint Robinson to reach second with no outs. The infield single was hit by Ian Desmond and it was aided by the usually pristine glove of Manny Machado, as he couldn't get the ball out in time to throw to first. The second error was on a groundball hit by Jose Lobaton directly to Jonathan Schoop at second and it scored the Nats' only run.
That sequence left runners at first and second with one out and pitcher Gio Gonzalez at the plate. Gio laid down a bunt that was hit softly enough for catcher Caleb Joseph to fire to third and start a rally-killing double play.
"It’s a good play by their catcher," manager Matt Williams said. "If that bunts a little further out, the pitcher’s got to field it and the play is at first. Or if it’s a little to the right side, the first baseman is gonna go to first. But it was out in front enough where Joseph could get to it and Machado made a nice turn to get it back over."
Bryce Harper drew three walks on Tuesday night and set a single season record for the Nationals along the way. But afterwards he could only look back on one pitch he got from Jimenez in third inning as a missed opportunity.
"I missed my pitch. I missed the 1-2 sinker. I probably should have hit it out of the yard, but I popped up to second. That's on me. If I want a hit, then that's the pitch I gotta hit. Instead of being 1-for-1, I was 0-for-1 with three walks. I can't miss my pitches," he said.
The Nationals have 12 games remaining on their schedule, but the New York Mets have a magic number of only six. The likelihood of their season ending prematurely is becoming more and more real by the day. It's a near inevitability they will be watching the playoffs from home this October, all wondering what could have been if nights like Tuesday had just gone the way they should have.