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Washington Nationals starting pitcher Joe Ross follows through on a delivery to the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning of a baseball game in Los Angeles, Wednesday, June 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

In every season, there are inevitable peaks and valleys throughout the year—and the Washington Nationals are currently mired in one of the valleys.

A seven-game losing streak has put the brakes on what was becoming a special campaign, as all of the problems the team previously demonstrated in small doses reared their ugly heads at the same time.

Early in the season, the team was carried by 2015 MVP Bryce Harper, new acquisition Daniel Murphy and its vaunted starting pitchers.  Inevitably, those guys could not keep up their torrid pace and others had to try to pick up the slack—and for most of this season, they’ve been able to do so. The losing streak began with an excruciating loss in San Diego on June 18 as Felipe Rivero allowed six runs in the bottom of the eighth in a 7-3 defeat. The team hasn’t been the same since.

In baseball, losing happens, but it seems like the Nationals have lost in every way imaginable during their recent slump. After dropping the final two games in San Diego on June 18 and 19, it was on to Los Angeles and a marquee pitching matchup pitting Stephen Strasburg against the Dodgers’ former MVP and Cy Young winner, Clayton Kershaw. Unfortunately, Nationals manager Dusty Baker had to scratch Strasburg 90 minutes before the start of the game with an upper back strain, and a trip to the disabled list for Strasburg seems inevitable. Without Strasburg, the Nationals had to turn to Yusmerio Perit for a spot start. Perit was solid despite suffering a 4-1 defeat, as he delivered six solid innings of five-hit ball.
The next two games in the series will go down in infamy for Nats fans. Starter Tanner Roark was cruising with a 2-0 lead through seven innings and it looked as if the losing streak would end at just four games. But Yasmani Grandel’s three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth lifted the Dodgers to a 3-2 victory on June 21.  Somehow, this wouldn’t be the Nats’ most soul-crushing loss of the series, week or season.

Down 3-2 to the Nationals in the bottom of the ninth inning, and with one out and a runner on first, Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig slapped the ball up the middle. The ball careened through the infield, but Nationals center fielder Michael Taylor let the ball skip by him and roll to the wall. Puig raced around the bases and scored on the three-base error, sealing the 4-3 victory for Los Angeles in unthinkable fashion.  Taylor who had been playing very well from that point, finished the game 0-for-5 with five strikeouts from the leadoff spot.

“Very shocking,” Taylor said afterward. “It’s a groundball. I’ve got to make that play.”

Nats fans can only hope that a game such as this doesn’t ruin the psyche of a young talent such as Taylor. But Taylor isn’t the only player that happens to be struggling at the wrong time.

Ace pitcher Max Scherzer had a chance to end the losing streak on June 24, but he promptly regressed back to the early season when he gave up too many homers, and the Nationals lost, 5-3.

Meanwhile, Ryan Zimmerman’s collapse from “Face of the Franchise” to the player he is today is downright sad.  Opposing managers continue to walk whoever is in front of Zimmerman, and he just hasn’t delivered, looking lost in each at-bat. Zimmerman is having a terrible June, hitting .190 and there seems to be no end in sight for his pathetic play.

Another baffling case has been starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who has given up at least three earned runs in each of his last seven starts and, in five of those starts—including two this week—has given up at least five.  Gonzalez’s struggles have had a ripple effect on the team as the bullpen is now overworked and the offense has to press because of the early deficits. He now has a 3-7 record and an ERA of 4.73.  The season has gotten away from Gonzalez and it is time for Washington General Manager Mike Rizzo to make a move or two before the season is lost.

Dion Johnson

Special to the AFRO