Washington’s Tanner Rainey saved a 3-2 victory for Josiah Gray over the Phillies on July 6, 2022, in Philadelphia. As poorly as the Nats were playing, nobody could imagine then that it would be seven weeks – 43 games – before another Nationals’ starting pitcher would win a game.
Victories by starters clearly are far less significant today than historically — witness 10-game winner Jacob deGrom’s Cy Young award in 2018. But casual fans still take note of a starting pitcher’s won/loss record when weighing a team’s chances. Better to be, say, 13-3 than 4-17, the depth to which the Nats’ Patrick Corbin sank.
The weird streak began on July 7 with the Nationals losing the first of nine straight, all but one of those losses charged to the starters.
It must have taken an incredible amount of bad luck — especially for a team with Josh Bell and Juan Soto hitting in the middle of the order through August 1 — for a starter not to stumble into a win when his team scores a lot of runs early. It didn’t happen to these Nats, however.
During the streak, just three starters left the mound with a lead. On August 2, Cory Abbott left after five, ahead of the Mets. 1-0. Franco Lindor led off the sixth with a homer off Victor Arano to tie it. Despite the blown save, Arano won when the Nats rallied to win, 5-1.
On August 10, Gray had given up a homer and a single but still led, 2-1, when Steve Cishek relieved him in the seventh. The inherited runner scored two batters later, and the Cubs ended up winning. In next start, on Aug. 15, Gray left with a 4-3 lead after six, but the Cubs tied it in the seventh off Hunter Harvey. A run in the eighth made the Nats and Carl Edwards Jr. a winner, with the help of a Kyle Finnegan save.
The bullpen took the loss in five games during the steak. The starters were losers 26 times. Obviously, the relievers collected all 12 victories during the starters’ run of futility.
Sixteen times during the streak, the starter did not last the five innings needed to qualify for a win. Corbin lost seven times, Anibal Sanchez lost five, Paolo Espino four, Gray and Erick Fedde, on the IL for much of time, both lost three and Abbott lost twice. Joan Adon and Cade Cavalli took the other two losses. The combined starters earned run average during the steak was 6.74. All six also had no-decisions. None of the starters went as many as seven innings.
No Max Scherzer or a healthy Steven Strasburg in that bunch.
The Nationals tied the record for starting-pitcher futility at home on August 17, against the Cubs. Abbott went six innings, but the best the Nats could do was a 2-2 tie headed to the seventh. The bullpen took a 3-2 loss, the 35th time in a row without a starter winning.
That kept the record in town: The last-place 1949 Washington Senators, who lost 104 of its 154 games, established the post-1900 standard with 35 straight games with starters not winning.
The Nationals broke that record the next night in San Diego, even as Washington was defeating the Padres, 3-2 with two runs in the ninth. Soto and Bell, Padres now, were on hand to watch.
The streak came close to ending before Washington left San Diego A pair of 2-1 losses were inflicted by the two stars the Nats had traded. After yielding a game-tying homer to Bell, Gray was done after five innings and a 1-1 tie. Soto’s seventh inning homer won it. The next day, Corbin carried a 1-0 lead into the sixth. Bell’s two-run homer took care of that. The streak reached 39 games.
At 43 games, it finally ended. On August 28, Corbin went six innings against the Reds and left with a 3-2 lead. Harvey, Edwards Jr. and Finnegan made it stand up. Corbin, leading league in losses, won for just the fifth time. Post-game interviews made clear all the Nationals knew how long the streak had lasted.
The amazing run of futility came just three seasons after the Nationals’ starters in 2019 went 27 consecutive games without suffering a defeat, tying the MLB record set by the 1916 Giants.
The fall has been speedy and deep for the 2019 World Series winners.
A version of this appeared in Here’s the Pitch, the online newsletter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association, on Sept. 2, 2022.