All innings, in theory, are created equal. A run in the fourth inning does count as much as a run in the ninth.
But it certainly feels like some innings are more important than others. And right now, the eighth inning feels really important for the Nationals. Not for positive reasons.
It happened again Friday night at Citi Field. When the eighth inning began, the Nationals trailed the Mets 1-0. They got a leadoff single from Dan Uggla but couldn't bring him home. Then in the bottom of the inning, Matt Thornton and Blake Treinen combined to surrender three runs, with a major assist to Jayson Werth, whose misplay of Daniel Murphy's line drive to left turned what should've been a sacrifice fly into a 3-run double.
Just like that, the 1-0 deficit was a 4-0 hole the Nationals couldn't overcome, leading to their first loss in four days and a dropped game in the NL East standings.
If this was an isolated incident, it would be one thing. But if you've been following this team through the season's first month, you know this is happening all too often.
Do you know what the Nationals' cumulative score for the eighth inning this season is? How about 15-4, in favor of the opposition. That's their second most-lopsided inning, trailing only the second (which the Nats are losing 19-3 for some inexplicable reason).
What's going on here? Is there some explanation for this team's eighth-inning woes?
Certainly the Nationals' erratic bullpen has something to do with it. Treinen has given up five runs in the eighth inning himself, and that doesn't include inherited runners who scored while he was on the mound (as was the case Friday). Rafael Martin gave up four runs in the eighth before his demotion to Syracuse earlier this week. Aaron Barrett has allowed two runs in the eighth, none in any other inning he's pitched so far this year.
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But there have been more than a couple of defensive miscues in the eighth inning as well, from Treinen and Ian Desmond's disastrous night at Fenway Park a few weeks ago to Werth's misplay Friday night.
How to explain that phenomenon? Could a lack of confidence in the relievers who take the mound late in games cause fielders to get jumpy?
And what about the lack of offense from the Nationals? They've only scored four eighth-inning runs in 24 games, their lowest output for any frame other than the second. Are other clubs' setup men just that good, or do the Nats' hitters feel some extra pressure to come through at the plate late in these tight games?
It doesn't make a whole lot of sense. And perhaps it will all even out over the long summer, evidence that there's not really any logical reason for the eighth-inning woes.
But right now, there's no scarier sight for the Nationals than that big number eight on the scoreboard.