Breaking down the Nationals three-game stand at Wrigley Field.
Game 1: 2-1 win on Monday afternoon (May 25)
Game 2: 3-2 loss on Tuesday night (May 26)
Game 3: 3-0 win on Wednesday night (May 27)
What I liked:
1. Good times – The Nats won their ninth straight series and now are 21-6 since their 7-13 start.
2. Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Ian Desmond – They combined for 13 of the Nats’ 20 hits in the series.
Harper blasted two more homers, finishing 3-for-10 with three walks. His solo homer that led off the top of the seventh of Game 2 was a classic Wrigley Field homer, as the ball carried big time and Harper in fact initially slammed his bat in frustration, thinking he was flying out. Harper then had an opposite-field bomb in the top of the sixth of Game 3, making seven of his 18 homers this season opposite-field shots.
Span went 5-for-12, blasting solo homers in Games 1 and 2.
Desmond had another costly defensive mistake in Game 2 (see below) but went 5-for-13, totaling three doubles over the final two games.
3. Tanner Roark’s start in Game 1 – Roark, making his first start of the season due to Doug Fister being on the 15-day disabled list with a strained flexor muscle in his right forearm, allowed one run in five innings on just three hits and a walk. As I’ve said before, Roark did nothing last season to warrant being a reliever this year. His only crime was his experience as a reliever, making him the easy choice to move to the bullpen when Scherzer was signed. But Roark had a better ERA+ than Scherzer did in 2014 (130 vs. 125). The point isn’t that Roark is better; it’s that he was a terrific starting pitcher, and the Nats are lucky to have him as their “sixth man.”
4. Jordan Zimmermann’s start in Game 2 – On a night in which Zimmermann pretty clearly didn’t have his best stuff, he allowed one run in seven innings. He gave up six hits (including a homer to Dexter Fowler to lead off the bottom of the first) and three walks on 113 pitches. But the run prevention ultimately was there. This was a prime example of Zimmermann living up to his “bulldog” reputation. He now has a 1.91 ERA over five starts this month.
5. Max Scherzer’s start in Game 3 – Mad Max was excellent again, recording 13 strikeouts over seven scoreless innings. That’s now a 1.51 ERA and 0.88 WHIP over 10 starts for a pitcher who you could argue is actually exceeding his reported $210 million contract.
6. The bullpen – Nats relievers combined to allow two runs (one earned) in 7 2/3 innings, allowing no walks. Particularly impressive was Casey Janssen’s work in the eighth inning of Game 3. Coming into the game with runners on first and second and no outs and facing the Cubs 3-5 hitters, he got Kris Bryant to popup, made a very nice play on a Dexter Fowler bunt and got Starlin Castro to ground out to short.
What I didn’t like:
1. Horrific mistakes in the ninth inning of Game 2 – First came one of the worst base-running blunders you’ll ever see. Yunel Escobar, who had stolen second earlier in the inning, inexplicably took off from second base with two outs and a full count on Wilson Ramos in a two-all game. Cubs closer Hector Rondon, who had not yet started his delivery to the plate, stepped off the rubber and threw to third, nailing Escobar by a mile for the final out of the top of the ninth. It’s also worth mentioning that Escobar got picked off at first base in the top of the first.
Next came another costly error by Ian Desmond in the bottom of the ninth. He threw wildly to first for a 4-6-3 double play that had little if any chance, putting pinch hitter Jonathan Herrera on second base as opposed to first. The next batter, Addison Russell, blasted a walk-off double to deep right-center beyond the grasp of Span, who was playing shallower than normal because Herrera was on second as opposed to first.
2. The overall offense – The Nats batted .211 (20-for-95), including going just 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position.