Craig Heist, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - If this truly was a battle of the Beast's of the East, someone forgot to tell the Washington Nationals.
The New York Yankees with their 27 World Championships came into Nationals Park over the weekend in front of three straight sellout crowds and swept the Nats proving for at least this series, the Nationals have some more work to do.
No, the Nats weren't pounded in this series but it was the lack, as baseball people like to say, of "doing the little things" or in this case not doing them, that cost the Nats a chance to win at least two of the games.
Whether it was not turning a double play to get out of the fourth inning of Saturday afternoon's game before an Ian Desmond error allowed a run to score, or the lack of production out of the middle of the order, primarily Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse who went a combined 4-for-26 with one RBI in the series, the Nationals ran across a team in the Yankees that takes advantage of every little mistake their opponents make.
"When we're not scoring many runs, everything little thing is a big issue especially against a good hitting ballclub," said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. "There is no let up in their lineup so every little thing, a boot, a passed ball, I mean, you pay for it."
"We had some chances but nothing glaring to me," said first baseman Adam LaRoche. "We didn't have a ton of guys on base. I think with the lineup they're throwing out there our pitchers did a great job. They got all-stars coming off the bench late in games and that's a tough lineup."
Johnson has managed in both the American League East with the Orioles and in the National League East and he knows all too well that besides good pitching, which the Nationals certainly have, you have to be able to score runs and the Nationals have been challenged at times this year to do that.
The Nationals rank 12th in the National League in team batting and in a series like this against a good team, that can get exposed and it was over the weekend.
"It makes it hard," LaRoche said. "Unfortunately, it's been the story of the year. We haven't had our whole lineup going yet and still we are in pretty good shape."
Despite the sweep, the Nationals are still four games ahead of Atlanta in the NL East thanks to the Orioles who threw back-to-back shutouts at the Braves this weekend; they are four-and-a-half up on the Mets and six over Miami.
LaRoche knows it could have been worse for his team.
"Yeah, no question. It's nice to have a little cushion when you go through bad stretches and you are still right in there, it's perfect. Hopefully, we can stay right there. That's ideal where you can afford to hit those skids and still be all right."
While the Nationals would like to see the offense get in gear they also know this was a three game series against a good team in the middle if June. Three games of 162 and while not much turned out on the positive side, they have a day to think about and get ready for the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday night.
"It's not October yet," said Nationals rookie outfielder, Bryce Harper. "That's all you look at. It's not October yet. It's a long season and we still have a lot of games left.
I thought we played pretty well. Some things didn't roll our way a little bit and you have to take the good with the bad and try to improve and try to win some ball games this coming week."
Nationals fans shouldn't panic by any stretch. Just understand there is still three and a half months of baseball left and if you think this series with the Yankees was big, wait until September when the games against the Mets, Marlins, Braves and Phillies will mean a lot more than this weekend series did.
As Michael Morse put it, "We're in first place for a reason. We've battled our butts off all year, and we're going to continue to do that."
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