When the Nationals broke out for seven runs on Friday night, the hope was certainly for that momentum to carry over on Saturday in their early afternoon bout with the Cubs. Manager Matt Williams had adjusted his lineup with Ryan Zimmerman batting second and Anthony Rendon hitting cleanup. He went with the same approach on Saturday, but the team reverted back to their recent troubles and managed only two runs on five hits in the 4-2 loss.
Williams gave credit to Chicago's starter Jason Hammel - who is now 9-0 against the Nats in 11 career starts - but was direct to the point when giving a reason for his team's offensive woes.
"Swinging at balls out of the strike zone. You have to hit strikes against him and we swung at some balls out of the strike zone today," he said.
Hammel sprayed his fastball in and out of the zone and mixed in sweeping sliders with the occasional looping curveball. Wilson Ramos and Bryce Harper were able to see him well, as both homered. Harper also landed a single in the first inning. But the rest of the Nats' lineup went 2-for-21 against him across eight innings plus one at-bat in the ninth.
Ian Desmond said it was Hammel's slider that was the toughest pitch to hit on Saturday.
"He locates his heater well enough to make his slider really effective. Heavy slider guy," he said. "Today, I felt a lot better. This is probably the best I've ever felt against him. To lay off, I don't know, if he throws down the middle you want to hit it. It's an effective pitch, certainly."
It may have been Hammel's slider in this particular loss, but a combination of things have held the Nationals back on offense. Only three MLB teams have scored fewer runs in the month of June so far. The Nats have managed three runs or less in 13 of their last 16 games with an average of 2.6 runs per game during that stretch.
Williams was visibly frustrated after Saturday's loss in what was his shortest postgame press conference of the season. He clearly wasn't happy, but had already turned his focus towards Sunday's 4:05 p.m. series finale against the Cubs.
"We’re not gonna make too much of it, okay," he said. "Today we swung at balls out of the strike zone and didn’t give ourselves as much a chance as we wanted to. So we have to go get ‘em tomorrow."