Black-boxing a highly-disappointing series for the Nationals at Citi Field.
Game 1: 2-1 12-inning loss on Friday night (July 31)
Game 2: 3-2 loss on Saturday night (Aug. 1)
Game 3: 5-2 loss on Sunday night (Aug. 2)
What I liked:
1. Anthony Rendon and Yunel Escobar – They combined for nine of the Nats’ 20 hits in the series. Each had a solo homer in Game 3, during which Rendon also had a double.
2. Joe Ross’ start in Game 2 – The least-experienced member of the staff provided its best start in the team’s biggest series of the season: two runs in 6 1/3 innings on four hits and a walk versus six strikeouts.
What I didn’t like:
1. So much for that dominance – The Nats entered this series 17-2 over their last 19 games at Citi Field and 47-19 overall against the Mets since the start of the 2012 season. The Nats exited this series the victims of a three-game sweep and in a virtual tie atop the National League East.
2. The offense – The Nats totaled just five runs, batted just .183 (20-for-109) and worked just three walks. Yes, the Nats faced the Mets’ three best starters in Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, all of whom were good to great. But in a big series such as this one, the Nats needed a lot more from their lineup. Michael Taylor went 0-for-12 with nine strikeouts.
3. Gio Gonzalez’s start in Game 1 – He lasted for just 4 2/3 innings, giving up four hits and four walks and throwing 105 pitches. He only gave up one run, but the damage could have been much worse.
4. Jordan Zimmermann’s start in Game 3 – He had just one bad inning, but it was perhaps the worst inning of his career: five runs on three homers in a five-pitch span in the bottom of the third. Zimmermann was very good in the other five innings he threw, but the one bad inning proved very costly and electrified Citi Field.
5. Bryce Harper’s ejection in Game 1 – He was tossed by home-plate umpire Jerry Meals in the top of the 11th after taking a called third strike and screaming in Meals’ face. As has been the case previously this season, Harper was right: the pitch was outside of the strike zone. But Harper’s situational awareness here was awful. The Nats were tied at one in extra innings in a road game against the team chasing them for the division. Harper has been the best hitter in the majors this season. He has to stay in the game, especially when you consider that Meals gave Harper some leeway and in fact warned him to back off before tossing him. This was Harper’s third ejection of the season. All have been for arguing balls and strikes.
6. Matt Williams’ bullpen management – I don’t believe in judging managers’ decisions on results. I know that may seem odd at first, but the reality is that you can make the right decision analytically but still get the wrong result. Those decisions are forgivable. What are not are decisions that go against the numbers and predictably turn out wrong.
Williams in the bottom of the eighth of Game 2 called for lefty Matt Thornton to intentionally walk the right-handed hitting Yoenis Cespedes to get to the left-handed hitting (and white-hot) Lucas Duda. Williams did this despite the fact that Cespedes had batted just .183 against lefties this season while Duda was hitting .298 versus lefties. The gamble, predictably, didn’t work: Duda wacked an RBI double, scoring Curtis Granderson easily for the eventual game-winning run. Yes, Cespedes is a right-handed batter, and Duda is a left-handed batter. But the numbers told you that Cespedes was the more advantageous matchup for the Nats. And, again, Duda was on fire, having already belted two solo homers in the game. Bad decision, bad result.
The other curious aspect of this series was that neither Jonathan Papelbon nor Drew Storen threw a single pitch, despite the fact that Nats relievers totaled 10 innings in the series and each of the first two games was a one-run loss. Williams said that Storen was not available for Game 1. But if Papelbon was pitching in the bottom of the 12th on Friday night instead of Felipe Rivero, does Wilmer Flores not hit a walk-off solo homer? Hindsight question I know, but it’s one worth asking.