Postgame analysis of the Nats 4-1 loss over the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday night at Nationals Park.
How it happened: The Nationals’ season-long mastery of the Phillies was not on display Thursday night, as their franchise-best nine-game winning streak against the NL East rivals was finally snapped.
And they can thank a 24-year-old right hander making his 2016 debut for giving them so much trouble. Alec Asher, making his first start of the season, frustrated the Nats offense while pitching six scoreless frames. He wasn’t in dominant form — he didn’t record a strikeout — but he only allowed two hits on the night.
Washington’s best chance to rally came two frames after Asher exited the game. The Nats had the bases loaded in the eighth for Daniel Murphy, who settled for a sacrifice fly after narrowly missing the game-tying grand slam. Bryce Harper subsequently struck out to end the threat.
Meanwhile, one rough inning doomed A.J. Cole on this night. He yielded four runs on a pair of home runs in the third. The bullpen kept the Phillies’ offense in check the rest of the way, but the damage was already done.
What it means: The Nats’ record falls to 82-58, dropping their division lead over the New York Mets to eight games. The magic number to clinch the NL East remains at 15.
Third inning stains Cole’s night: Don’t let the final pitching line fool you; Cole pitched much better game than the four runs over five frames would suggest. The problem? All those runs came in the third inning, which doomed the 24-year-old right hander in this outing. The solo homer from Peter Bourjos and three-run shot from Ryan Howard proved to be the big blows of the game, but Cole nonetheless acquitted himself relatively well. Including those knocks, he allowed five hits total while tallying eight strikeouts and walking none. He may not be dominating in his opportunity as a member of the starting rotation, but he’s doing enough to get more chances.
Asher shuts Nats down: How is it that Asher — making his first start of the year — handled the Nats over six shutout innings? For one, as Dusty Baker has mentioned recently, September baseball means facing off against more young pitchers you haven’t seen before, so it usually takes several turns through the order to get a feel for his arsenal. And while Asher pitched well, there were moments where it seemed like Nats offense suffered from plain old tough luck. They made solid contact off the him all night long, but had nothing to show for it. Washington totaled six line outs during the game, averaged 92.6 mph exit velocity through the first six innings. Sometimes, it’s just not your night.
Up next: The Nats will look to bounce back as they send Tanner Roark (14-8, 2.89 ERA) to the mound on Friday night to face Phillies right hander Jake Thompson (1-5, 6.48 ERA).