WASHINGTON, D.C. -- There is an old saying that statistics don't lie. And sometimes they don't make sense, either.
The Washington Nationals have a bullpen that has posted an ERA of 2.71, and that ranked second in the National League and third in the major leagues during games through July 7, behind the Seattle Mariners (2.45) and San Diego Padres (2.46).
Yet the Nationals are 2-8 during extra-inning games this season, and 0-5 at home during such contests. The latest late-night heartbreak came when the Baltimore Orioles scored six runs in the top of the 11th and beat the Nationals, 8-2, July 7.
The second game of the two-game series in Washington was rained out July 8 and will be made up at Nationals Park Aug. 4 at a time to be determined. The Battle of the Beltway will continue July 9 in Baltimore with right-handers Doug Fister, of Washington, and Bud Norris, of Baltimore, facing off.
The Nationals (48-40) are tied for first in the National League East, while Baltimore (49-40) is in first in the American League East.
So why are the Nationals struggling to win extra-inning contests? While the bullpen has given up runs at home during such games, it is perhaps the offense that has let down first-year manager Matt Williams. Washington is batting .184 in extra innings this season.
Is there something wrong with the Nats' approach during extra-inning games?
"I don't think so," Williams said after the loss to the Orioles. "You have specialty pitchers at the back of bullpens. With the exception of our last inning, you could arguably say the same thing with our guys who came in for three [batters]. They're just specialty pitchers so you can match up. I'm not concerned about that. We had [an] opportunity to get it done in the ninth, and it didn't happen for us. Got to be prepared for tomorrow."
The Nationals have now lost extra-inning games of 10, 11, 12, 13 and 15 innings this season at Nationals Park. The longest game of the season for Washington was 16 innings, which they won at Milwaukee against the Brewers June 24.
Washington rookie reliever Aaron Barrett gave up a home run to Orioles third baseman Manny Machado in the 11th inning July 7, after Craig Stammen had yielded the go-ahead homer to Chris Davis and a solo home run to J.J. Hardy.
Barrett pointed out that veterans Drew Storen (seventh inning), Tyler Clippard (eighth) and Rafael Soriano (closer) have set roles. That is not the case for Jerry Blevins; Stammen; and Ross Detwiler, a former starter.
"Those jobs are not easy," said Barrett, sitting in the Washington dugout before the game July 7.
Barrett had an ERA of 9.43 in 2010, his first pro season, with Vermont in the New York-Penn League.
In 2013, Barrett was the closer at Double-A Harrisburg of the Eastern League and then did not allow a run during spring training. He got the win when he made his big league debut Opening Day against the Mets in New York.
And the Nationals won that game in 10 innings. Since then, Washington has struggled when the game goes past nine innings.