They have scored two or fewer runs in six of those 11 games and that leaves little room for error. So for all the effective sinkers Scott Erickson threw in his best start to date, the fact that he failed to execute a bunt defense play had as much to do with the outcome as anything.
Loaiza got the win against a club that had him on the short list of free agent pitchers pursued during the winter. He and three relievers limited the Dodgers to four hits, while Erickson held the Nationals scoreless over the first six innings, inducing 14 of the first 18 outs on ground balls, two on double plays.
But he allowed a ground single to Ryan Church leading off the seventh inning. He said he got too careful with Vinny Castilla and walked him, one of four times Castilla reached base.
"That's when the problem started," said Erickson.
Then Brian Schneider dropped a bunt between the mound and the third-base line, trying to sacrifice. Third baseman Jose Valentin retreated to the bag to receive the throw for a force, but Erickson charged toward the plate and the ball rolled past him for a single. Instead of first and second with one out, the bases were loaded with no outs.
"He hit it kind of hard, but it was my fault 100 percent," said Erickson. "I took a bad route. I should have gone more toward the line."
Cristian Guzman's fielder's choice grounder that followed scored Church and pinch-hitter Carlos Baerga fisted an RBI single for a 2-1 Washington lead that signaled the end for Erickson. The Nationals blew the game open against the Dodgers bullpen with a pair of runs in each of the eighth and ninth innings, although two sharp grounders that Hee-Seop Choi failed to glove cleanly contributed.
Setting aside Milton Bradley's solo homer (his sixth) with two out in the bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers had only one serious scoring opportunity and they ran themselves out of it.
Choi doubled with one out in the sixth, Drew was walked intentionally and Jeff Kent singled to center. Choi scored and, when Drew saw Brad Wilkerson's throw sail over the cutoff man, he continued toward third.
Surprisingly, Loaiza failed to back up the plate on the play and was standing between the mound and the plate when Wilkerson's throw landed in his glove. He relayed to third and nailed Drew. Instead of second and third and one out, Bradley came up with Kent on second and grounded out.
"I've been on teams that have gone through droughts and you wonder what in the world is going on and sooner or later, you get out of it," said Drew, who doubled and walked twice, totaling eight walks in the last three games.
Although his record fell to 1-3, this start was even better than Erickson's lone win against San Diego. He was charged with two runs over 6 1/3 innings. But his teammates have scored only four runs in his three losses.
"He can't be disappointed in how he performed," said manager Jim Tracy.
Erickson was disappointed in the result.
"The bottom line is wins and losses," he said. "We scored a run in the sixth and the last thing you want to do is give them a run, let alone two. I felt good about this game and I felt good about the last one. I left that game down 3-2 and left this one down 2-1. Hopefully we'll put some runs back on the board."