GAME IN A NUTSHELL: On the heels of a weekend sweep in New York that left them in a virtual tie with the Mets atop the NL East, the Nationals hoped the opener of a homestand against the sub-.500 Diamondbacks and Rockies would serve as a much-needed elixir for this ailing ballclub. It didn't. And they now find themselves out of first place and out of playoff position altogether as a result.
Doug Fister was roughed up for five runs, most of the damage coming via three homers spread among the top of the third and fourth innings. The veteran right-hander put his team in a considerable hole, and that proved significant by night's end.
Shut out by rookie Zack Godley, the Nationals came to bat in the bottom of the ninth trailing 6-0 and showing no signs of life. Then they suddenly came to life, with Ryan Zimmerman homering off Daniel Hudson, and a flurry of base hits following, all of which trimmed the deficit to 6-4 with one out and Jayson Werth stepping to the plate. Sidewinder Brad Ziegler, though, managed to get Werth to ground out and Yunel Escobar to fly out, spoiling that last-ditch rally.
The ninth-inning drama aside, the Nationals still ended the night in an unfamiliar and unappealing position. With the Mets routing the Marlins in Miami, the Nats are now out of first place for the first time since June 19. They're also 3 games out of the NL wild card race, with the Pirates, Cubs and Giants all ahead of them for the two available spots for the annual play-in game.
HITTING LOWLIGHT: Just because a lineup is nearly healthy, there's no guarantee that lineup will be productive, as the Nationals have found out over the last week. The return of Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman from injuries haven't had a positive effect on the Nats' lineup as a whole. This group scored five runs over a span of 47 innings before the attempted ninth-inning rally. Rendon, Werth and Zimmerman obviously are still finding their strokes after prolonged DL stints. But that, combined with prolonged slumps by Wilson Ramos and Ian Desmond, hasn't helped matters at all.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: Just when it looked like Fister was starting to right his ship, he fell right back into some bad habits. The right-hander cruised through his first two innings, with a heavy sinker that induced four groundball outs and a pair of strikeouts. But then he elevated a 3-1 pitch to Nick Ahmed, who launched it to left field for a solo homer. And then he served up back-to-back bombs to David Peralta and Welington Castillo in the fourth, marking the second time in as many nights a Nationals pitcher allowed three homers in a span of six or fewer batters. This has become a real problem for Fister, who has now given up 12 homers in 86 innings this season. He also has given up five or more runs five times in 15 starts, something he did only twice in 25 starts last year.
KEY STAT: After going 8-for-12 with the bases loaded last season, Ian Desmond is 2-for-9 this season.
UP NEXT: Max Scherzer and his 2.22 ERA take the mound Tuesday night to face Diamondbacks lefty Patrick Corbin (2-3, 3.21). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.