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Breaking down the Nationals’ four-game stand against Chicago.

Game 1: 2-1 loss on Thursday night (June 4)

Game 2: 7-5 win on Friday night (June 5)

Game 3: 4-2 loss on Saturday afternoon (June 6)

Game 4: 6-3 loss on Sunday (June 7)

What I liked:

1. The Nats’ 2014 MVP is finally back – Anthony Rendon, who suffered an injured left knee in March and then an oblique injury in early May, made his season debut in Game 1, belting a double and a single.  He ultimately went 3-for-15 with a walk in the series.

2. The bullpen – Nats relievers combined to allow four runs in 14 1/3 innings, recording 15 strikeouts versus 10 hits and five walks.  The lone truly bad outing was Blake Treinen allowing two runs on a double, an RBI single, three walks and a run-scoring wild pitch in the top of the sixth of Game 4.

3. Gio Gonzalez’s start in Game 1 – Gio got off to a rough start, giving up two runs on two singles and two walks in the top of the first.  But he then tossed five scoreless innings, recording six strikeouts versus just two more hits, two more walks and a wild pitch.  Gio doesn’t always handle adversity well.  He deserves credit for responding nicely in this game.

4. Joe Ross’ major-league debut in Game 3 – Ross was by no means lights out (three runs in five innings), but he allowed six hits and no walks and kept the Nats in the game.  Acquired in the Stephen Souza Jr. trade last December, Ross was the 25th overall pick of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.  Him getting this start was a surprise and, to me, said more about the underwhelming work at the major-league level of guys like Taylor Jordan and A.J. Cole.

What I didn’t like:

1. Bad stretch – The Nats, who went 21-6 and won nine straight series from April 28 through May 27, now have lost eight of 10 and dropped three straight series.

2. The offense in Games 1, 3 and 4 – The Nats totaled just six runs and batted just .212 (21-for-99), including going 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position.

3. Clint Robinson’s TOOTBLAN that ended Game 1 – Robinson got picked off at first base to end the game, a major baseball sin and the second TOOTBLAN (Thrown Out On The Basepaths Like A Nincompoop) for the Nats against Cubs closer Hector Rondon in 10 days (May 26, 3-2 loss at the Cubs – 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.  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 of this game).

4. The umpiring and officiating in Game 1 – Danny Espinosa was ruled out at second base on a stolen-base attempt in the bottom of the fourth, even though Addison Russell didn’t apply the tag until Espinosa’s foot was on the bag.  Matt Williams challenged the play, but it incredibly was upheld.

Then in the bottom of the sixth, Bryce Harper was called out on a grounder to short with the bases loaded and one out despite clearly being safe.  But Williams, because he already had one failed challenge, couldn’t challenge this play.  It’s worth mentioning that the first-base umpire was Rob Drake, who ejected Harper (and Williams) from a 9-6 win at Arizona on May 13.

5. Tanner Roark’s start in Game 2 – Roark allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings.  He allowed six hits and no walks, but three of the six hits were homers.

6. Jordan Zimmermann’s start in Game 4 – Zimmermann, who had tossed nine consecutive quality starts, allowed four runs in five innings on 10 hits and two walks.

7. Still can’t get quite healthy – Just as the Nats got back Rendon, another starting infielder went down.  Escobar hurt the wrist on a check swing in the bottom of the first in Game 1.  He missed Games 2 and 3 but then had three singles, including an RBI single, in Game 4.

Denard Span left Game 4 due to back spasms, resulting in Espinosa’s first career outfield appearance (he played in left).  Span has had a rough last seven months physically.  He missed the doubleheader split with Toronto on June 2 due to a sore right knee, missed time in May due to a sore abdomen and missed the first 12 games of the season off undergoing right core-muscle surgery in March and sports-hernia surgery in December.

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