Nats can’t take Cleveland series and now face John Lannan for the first time in Philly

My guest prognosticator, Vince Guerrieri was right — his Cleveland Indians did take their series with my Washington Nationals.

That succinctly describes the Nats weekend. Two solid pitching performances by Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg were wasted, while a poor outing by Jordan Zimmerman was redeemed by Nats homers, including Anthony Rendon’s first, a game-winner after a missed-foul ball:

Even when hitting four homers on Saturday, the Nats needed a gimmick to win. They needed that to beat the Rockies on Thursday (two balks to advance the tying run) and the only run on Friday night was on a wild pitch.

Since the Nats have dug themselves in a hole of mediocrity (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dc-sports-bog/wp/2013/06/17/the-nats-and-world-series-winners-through-68-games/), a 1-2 road series is tough to swallow, especially when they had runners on the corners with no outs twice yesterday and the bases loaded with no outs too. They can’t let games like that slip away and still make the playoffs.

The mediocrity isn’t entirely due to bad luck, though roster construction and an under-performing bench plays a big part. Injuries have really hurt this team:

Bryce Harper really needs to put the helium down (Nats Enquirer) and get back in the lineup. That’ll probably solve some problems. Does this suddenly scarce, inert gas help with bursitis?

Tonight begins a big series in Philadelphia. The Phillies are four games under, but will certainly be eager to play the Nats, particularly tonight’s starter, John Lannan, who returns after a lengthy stint on the DL. If his sinker is on, he’s tough get much more than a groundball off of — in other words, the Nats bats will probably have trouble with him. Dan Haren is starting and that could get ugly quickly.

Lannan, who has the second most wins (42) for a DC pitchers since 2005, surely wants this one badly and I expect him to pitch about 5⅔ innings and give up no more than 2 runs with 2 double-plays. I also expect him to get on base twice.

The Nats really need this series to keep pace with the Braves, who lead by 6½ games. The Nats picked up a game over the last 10, but could have picked up a few more with some hitting with runners in scoring position. With about 90 games to go, the Braves can be caught, but it will be at a very slow pace unless the Nats get hot. They can’t wait for the lineup to be healthy to pick up all the ground.

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