Making sense of a wild series for the Nats at the National League-leading Cardinals.
Game 1: 8-5 loss on Monday night (Aug. 31)
Game 2: 8-5 loss on Tuesday night (Sept. 1)
Game 3: 4-3 win on Wednesday night (Sept. 2)
What I liked:
1. The offense – The Nats batted .262 (28-for-107) and totaled 11 walks in what was a fifth straight impressive offensive series.
Ryan Zimmerman was a monster, going 7-for-14 with eight RBI. He totaled four homers and two doubles. Zimmerman had a three-run homer, an RBI double and another single in Game 1. The four RBI gave him 28 for August, tying a club record for most RBI in a month (Bryce Harper in May 2015 and Ian Desmond in June 2013). Zimmerman then had a solo homer in Game 2 and two solo homers and a go-ahead RBI double in Game 3.
Jayson Werth went 5-for-14 with a walk.
Harper had five walks, a double and a single over the first two games but left Game 3 due to left glute tightness.
2. Max Scherzer’s start in Game 3 – He allowed two runs in six innings and recorded 10 strikeouts, so a good job from those standpoints. But there still were some troubling signs. For one, he gave up a season-worst 11 hits, though nine of them were singles. And he allowed the longest homer by a lefty in Bush Stadium history, a 454-foot bomb by Brandon Moss in the bottom of the second. Scherzer has allowed 13 homers over his last 10 starts.
What I didn’t like:
1. Two crushing losses to begin the series – The Game 1 loss saw the Nats get a go-ahead three-run homer from Zimmerman in the top of the seventh but then blow a 5-3 seventh-inning lead. The Game 2 loss saw the Nats blow another 5-3 seventh-inning lead.
2. The bullpen – Nats relievers combined to allow 11 runs (nine earned) in 11 innings.
Game 1 saw Casey Janssen and Felipe Rivero combine to allow five runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Janssen went single, infield single on which he was too slow in getting to first base, double play, walk, RBI single, RBI single. Rivero then came in and went two-run double, intentional walk, RBI single.
Game 2 saw Drew Storen allow two runs in the bottom of the eighth on a single, a hit-by-pitch, an error by Yunel Escobar and an intentional walk. Janssen then allowed three runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth on a double, a walk and a walk-off three-run homer to Moss.
3. Multiple bad decisions by Matt Williams
• Not putting Jonathan Papelbon in at some point during the Cardinals’ five-run seventh in Game 1 – I’ll absolve Williams of not putting Storen in because he has struggled so much lately. But Janssen and Rivero combined to allow six hits and a non-intentional walk. Janssen in particular was laboring (Jhonny Peralta had a hard-hit foul ball near the left-field stands two pitches before his RBI single) and has not had a great season overall. If Papelbon is truly your “ace” reliever, why wasn’t he used in this most high-leverage of innings? Because that’s not his “role” as “closer?” That’s one of the worst reasons to not use someone. I get that you were one out away from the inning ending, but that was clearly an evasive out. Would it have been so bad for Papelbon to get the last out in the seventh and then pitch in the eighth?
• Not putting Matt den Dekker in for Werth in Game 1– Werth was not able to make either of two plays in left field that would have ended the bottom of the seventh. Stephen Piscotty’s RBI single landed in front of Werth, and Jason Heyward’s two-run double went over Werth’s head. Neither catch would have been easy. But Werth is a defensive liability at this point, and you do wonder if den Dekker would have made either play.
• Again not going with Papelbon in Game 2 – Why? As Williams said after the game, “We want him (Papelbon) closing games out.” It was the bottom of the ninth. The score was tied at five. This was another high-leverage inning. Who cares that Papelbon wouldn’t have been closing the game out? How about you get to that point first? Janssen had gotten rocked and thrown 26 pitches the previous night. As mentioned earlier, he’s not having a good season to begin with. Not going to Papelbon when Williams should have for a second straight night was inexplicable.
4. Miscellaneous sloppiness in Games 1 and 2
• Werth and Rendon running into an out in the top of the ninth with Harper at the plate in Game 1 – Werth took off for third base on off a Trevor Rosenthal’s pitch to the backstop, only to reverse course and head back to second base. Rendon, because Werth hit the brakes, ended up getting caught in a rundown and being tagged out for the first out of the inning.
• Escobar’s error in the Cardinals’ two-run eighth in Game 2 –Escobar failed in not catching or at least blocking what was initially ruled a throwing error by Storen, and Escobar then shook his head in disgust and lolly-gagged after the ball. Also, Escobar had been unable to handle a short-hop throw from Wilson Ramos on a sacrifice in the bottom of the sixth, though the Cardinals ultimately did not score in that inning. Yet more evidence for having Escobar at second and Anthony Rendon at third.
5. Joe Ross’ start in Game 2 – He had one of the strangest lines for a bad game you’ll ever see: three runs in 2 2/3 innings on one hit (an RBI single) and six walks. All three runs came in the bottom of the third, during which Ross issued four walks. He now has struggled in three of his last five starts.
6. Gio Gonzalez’s start in Game 1 – He allowed three runs in six innings, so the run prevention ultimately wasn’t good. But 1) the three runs came on three straight singles in the bottom of the fourth and 2) he gave up just five hits (all singles) and two walks. Given that Gio had not lasted more than five innings in six of his previous seven starts, this outing was a step in the right direction. But the outing still wasn’t good enough.
7. Michael Taylor missing Game 3 – He was scratched from the lineup due to right knee soreness.