WASHINGTON -- The Nationals began the day with the hottest offense in the Majors, a juggernaut scoring runs at a break-neck pace this month. Since the start of August, no team had scored more runs than the Nats, who have become even more prolific lately, scoring 104 runs in their previous 11 games entering Tuesday (9.5 runs per game).
The Orioles, meanwhile, began the day with a pitching staff that owns the highest ERA in baseball, and the club has already set the Major League record for most homers allowed in a single season. Baltimore’s starter, Aaron Brooks, began the day with a 6.21 ERA.
That made it easy to imagine the potential of another offensive outburst Tuesday night at Nationals Park, but baseball can so often be random and unpredictable, as the Nationals were reminded in painful fashion in a 2-0 shutout loss to the Orioles. The loss snapped Washington’s five-game winning streak and gave the club a glimpse of just how whimsical a single game can be.
“That's why I think winning your division is so important,” left-hander Patrick Corbin said. “If you got one game, anything can happen.”
The words rang even more true on a night the Nationals spoiled a rare chance to gain ground in the National League East over the division-leading Braves, who held onto their 5 1/2-game lead despite losing in Toronto on Tuesday. Even with the tear during the month of August, Washington has barely made up any ground over Atlanta, which had a six-game lead on Aug. 2 that has been trimmed to no less than 4 1/2 this month.
Yes, Washington began the day with a four-game cushion for the top spot in the NL Wild Card race, but a night like this illustrates why even a potential home game with, perhaps, a starting pitching advantage does not guarantee victory.
“It’s baseball at the end of the day,” right fielder Adam Eaton said. “Let’s not get too high or too low. Let’s get back to where we were two days ago. We’ll wash it and try to split tomorrow.”
The Nats, of course, would not have the luxury of worrying about tomorrow if this were the NL Wild Card Game. Instead, it was Tuesday night against the Orioles, where for one game they were simply beaten.
This was just the sixth time this season Washington has been shut out and the first time since June 13 against the D-backs. That night, it was Zack Greinke, before he was traded to the Astros, who authored a two-hit shutout through 7 1/3 innings. On Tuesday it was Brooks, who held the Nats to two hits and a walk in six shutout innings while striking out six.
“It happens. It's baseball,” second baseman Asdrúbal Cabrera said. “We've got to think about going to find a win tomorrow.”
These Nationals seem destined for October with playoff odds that still sat at 96.2 percent, according to Fangraphs, even after this loss. But Tuesday night underscored just how unpredictable a single night can be, and why the Nationals still have their eye on avoiding putting their fate in the hands of one game.
They still have 31 games left this season, including seven head-to-head matchups with Atlanta, and their goal will be to avoid putting themselves in a scenario where this magical turnaround is reduced to a one-game toss-up.