After Saturday night's 12-6 loss to San Francisco, the fifth straight defeat for the Nationals overall and their third straight to the Giants, it's hard to imagine that just over a month ago the Nats swept this very same team in a July 4th series in Washington.
But here we are six weeks later with two teams on very different trajectories. The Nationals have allowed 23 runs in three games so far this series at AT&T Park and on Sunday they will be in danger of a four-game sweep.
And not only did they lose on Saturday, the Nats saw Bryce Harper leave in the seventh inning with a left leg injury and Steve McCatty get tossed in a rare ejection of a pitching coach.
Speaking of pitching, the positive momentum Gio Gonzalez was carrying in recent starts came to a screeching halt early in this particular loss. Gonzalez had a 1.48 ERA in his previous eight games but only lasted 2/2 innings in this one, his shortest outing since Sept. 14, 2010. He gave up six earned runs to match a season-high in what was his first loss since June 15.
This was the second time in as many nights a Nationals starter was spotted an early lead and couldn't take advantage, as Max Scherzer was removed after just three innings in Friday night's loss. The last time Nats starters were bounced in three innings or less on consecutive nights was Sept. 10-11 of 2011 (John Lannan and Stephen Strasburg).
Scherzer has been their best pitcher all season and he's being paid like it. Gio had been arguably their best pitcher in recent weeks. Yet both could not stop the bleeding in what has become an absolute disaster of a road trip.
The Nationals are now 1-5 on this West Coast swing and have lost 12 of their last 16 games. They are 10-19 since the All-Star break and now sit at the .500 mark for the first time since May 8.
Fortunately for the Nats, the New York Mets lost for the second consecutive night, so the division deficit remains at 4 1/2 games. But, for the second straight night, the Nationals squandered an opportunity to gain some ground in the NL East.
Saturday night on its own produced some positives and some negatives. There were good moments for the offense, which has been a problem for the Nats in recent weeks. They have now scored five runs or more in consecutive games for the first time since July 24-25. Ian Desmond hit one of the longest home runs you will ever see at AT&T Park and now has eight in his last 25 games. Danny Espinosa also smacked one over the fence, his first career pinch-hit home run. He has homered in consecutive games.
But yet again the Nats' bullpen did their part in making matters even worse. After Gio gave up six runs, the relievers behind him combined to allow six more. Tanner Roark was charged with three in 2 1/3 innings of work. Felipe Rivero pitched two innings and gave up another. And then Drew Storen allowed two on three hits in one inning of work.
Rivero has given up runs in consecutive outings and in four of his last eight appearances. Storen has allowed multiple runs in each of his last four outings. Storen has basically gone from a shut-down closer to an utter liability in a matter of weeks.
The Nationals have lost three straight games against the Giants for the first time since 2010 and on Sunday they are in serious danger of making it four. They will have rookie Joe Ross (3-4, 3.44) going up against World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner (13-6, 3.15). If the Nats are to break this losing streak on Sunday, they will have to do it the hard way.