Observations from and analysis of the Nats’ NLDS Game 1 loss to the Cubs
NLDS Game 1: Nationals lost to the Cubs 3-0 at Nationals Park on Friday night (Oct. 6, 2017)
1. This loss, which dropped the Nats to 2-7 in nine playoff games at Nationals Park, starts with a Nats offense that was horrendous. The Nats totaled two hits and three walks. A first-inning one-out single by Bryce Harper and a second-inning two-out single by Michael A. Taylor were the only hits the Nats got; yes, they were held hitless over the final 7 1/3 innings. The Nats had two at-bats with runners in scoring position the entire game. Among the many Nats who disappointed in this game:
- Trea Turner – He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, including striking out looking on four pitches to end the bottom of the fifth and striking out swinging to begin the bottom of the eighth. Turner was a beast in the Nats’ four-game split with the Cubs in late June, going 6-for-14 with four walks and 7-for-8 on stolen bases before suffering a non-displaced fracture in his right wrist on a hit-by-pitch by Pedro Strop in the bottom of the seventh in Game 4. Turner has got to be a factor in order for the Nats to win this series.
- Anthony Rendon – He went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout. Rendon grounding out softly to Kyle Hendricks with Harper on first and one out in the bottom of the first was a missed opportunity, and Rendon striking out looking off falling behind 0-2 to end the bottom of the eighth was painful.
- Daniel Murphy – He went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout. Murphy was the victim of some bad luck, whipping a first-pitch liner to Anthony Rizzo at first base to end the bottom of the first. But Murphy striking out swinging on four pitches with Rendon on first and one out in the bottom of the sixth was a missed opportunity.
- Ryan Zimmerman – He went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Zimmerman was ahead in the count 2-1 but grounded into a double play after a four-pitch leadoff walk by Murphy in the bottom of the fourth. Zimmerman grounded into a force out with Rendon on first to end the bottom of the sixth. And Zimmerman was called out for running outside of the base lines off being hit by a Wilson Contreras throw after striking out on four pitches for the second out in the bottom of the ninth.
- Jayson Werth – He went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout, which came on four pitches for the second out in the bottom of the second. Werth got ahead of what should have been a fatiguing Hendricks 2-0 but then took two called strikes and grounded out softly to Kris Bryant for the first out in the bottom of the seventh.
Washington Nationals’ Anthony Rendon tosses his bat after a called third strike during the eighth inning in Game 1 of baseball’s National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs, at Nationals Park, Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
2. Kyle Hendricks, Carl Edwards Jr. and Wade Davis combined on the two-hit shutout. Off the Redskins’ loss at Kansas City on Monday Night Football four nights earlier, I have to say that Hendricks reminds me of Alex Smith: he doesn’t scare you, the peripherals suggest that he’s eminently beatable and yet he does you dirty. Hendricks isn’t much of a strikeout pitcher (six strikeouts in seven innings in this game, 7.93 K/9 during the regular season) and throws mostly in the 80s, and yet he has been the Cubs’ best pitcher over the last two seasons. Edwards and Davis are the Cubs’ best relievers and that showed in this game: three strikeouts over two perfect innings facing the Nats’ nos. 1-6 batters.
3. The shame of the Nats’ bad offense was that it wasted a terrific start by Stephen Strasburg: two runs (both unearned) in seven innings on a Nats/Expos-playoff-record 10 strikeouts versus three singles and a walk. This was such a big start for Strasburg, given a) Max Scherzer not being available until at least Game 3 of this series due to a right-hamstring injury b) Strasburg having missed the 2012 and 2016 postseasons due to injuries c) the seven-year, $175 million contract extension that he signed in May 2016 d) the perception that he has never quite been what he was supposed to be as the no. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft. And Strasburg delivered. He had three pitches working (fastball, curveball, changeup), pounded the strike zone (threw 60 of his 81 pitches for strikes) and was pitch-efficient. Strasburg had seven strikeouts through four innings. A consequence of the bad offense was Dusty Baker pinch-hitting for Strasburg with Howie Kendrick in the bottom of the seventh; otherwise, this had complete game written all over it.
4. The biggest advantage for the Cubs over the Nats is defense. The Cubs finished fifth out of 30 major-league teams with 30 Defensive Runs Saved; the Nats were just 24th with -37 DRS. Boy did we see those numbers manifested in this game. The irony is that two of the Nats’ best defenders this season, Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper, had gaffes in the Cubs’ two-run sixth.
- Rendon butchered the transfer of the ball from his glove to his hand off backhanding a first-pitch chopper from Javier Baez for a fielding error to begin the inning, even though it appeared as if the ball should have been ruled foul by third-base umpire Laz Diaz. Rendon seemed to be too nonchalant on the play, perhaps thinking that the foul ruling was coming. But you can’t assume anything in a playoff game. And, if we’re being honest, Rendon has a history of being too nonchalant at times.
- Harper threw too high and missed the cutoff man (Ryan Zimmerman) on Kris Bryant’s two-out 0-2-pitch RBI single that scored Baez, resulting in Bryant just barely beating a throw from Stephen Strasburg and being safe at second base (the ruling was challenged by the Nats but upheld). And so instead of the top half of the inning being over, Anthony Rizzo was up. And he delivered an RBI single to right field on an 0-1 pitch for a 2-0 Cubs lead, as Harper, who still clearly is not 100 percent off his left-knee injury and left-calf strain suffered on Aug. 12, was unable to make a diving-forward catch. The Rizzo RBI single reduced the Nats’ win probability to 23.9 percent per Fangraphs.
5. Dusty Baker #strategery evaluation:
- I mostly liked Dusty’s lineup, as the Nats’ top five batters comprised spots 1-5: Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman. That is exactly how you do it. But I hated Dusty having Matt Wieters in the no. 7 spot ahead of Michael A. Taylor. Taylor was light years ahead of Wieters this season. And I don’t care that Taylor is faster and thus potentially easier to bunt over for the pitcher, or that Wieters is a switch hitter. Those things don’t matter nearly as much as getting your best batters the most plate appearances possible. Did you notice what happened in the bottom of the fourth? Jayson Werth worked a two-out walk, but Wieters then struck out on four pitches to end the inning. Taylor should have been batting, not Wieters. Runs were scarce in this game. Lineups matter.
- I had no problem with Dusty pinch-hitting for Stephen Strasburg in the bottom of the seventh, thus removing from the game despite two runs (both unearned) in seven innings with 10 strikeouts on just 81 pitches. The Nats had Michael A. Taylor on first off a Kris Bryant error with two outs, were trailing 2-0 and were facing a fatiguing Kyle Hendricks. Dusty made the right call.
- It was very disappointing to see Ryan Madson allow a run in the top of the eighth on a leadoff double by Jon Jay and then a two-out RBI double by Anthony Rizzo, who reduced the Nats’ win probability to 7.4 percent per Fangraphs. But I had no problem with Dusty going with Madson over, say, the Nats’ LOOGY (Lefty One-Out Guy), Oliver Perez, to face two lefty batters in Jay and Rizzo: 2) Jay was actually worse against righties than lefties during the regular season, and Rizzo was only slightly better against righties b) Madson was very effective against lefties during the regular season (.506 OPS allowed) and c) remember the Galdi mantra for the Nats’ bullpen in big spots this postseason: Core Four And Nothing More; Perez is not a part of the Core Four.
6. The biggest start of Gio Gonzalez’s career is Game 2 on Saturday at 5:38 p.m. Gio overall was tremendous during the regular season, but he ended it by being bad in four of his final six starts, including basically saying that he shouldn’t have been pitching after giving up six runs in 4 1/3 innings in the Nats’ regular-season-ending 11-8 loss to Pittsburgh. What kind of Gio are we going to see in Game 2? The soft, mentally-fragile, walk-the-ballpark Gio? Or the Gio who was a beast against batters with runners in scoring position this season and who was second among pitchers in the National League with a 6.6 bWAR?
7. One had nothing to do with the other, but how about the Nats struggling so badly on offense as we learned of the suspension of assistant hitting coach Jacque Jones with pay, “pending an internal investigation pursuant to a legal matter.” The suspension was announced by the Nats at 7:07 p.m., 24 minutes before the scheduled first pitch of Game 1, in classic Friday-news-dump fashion. According to The Washington Post, “A search of court records revealed a civil case filed Sept. 28 in which an unnamed plaintiff filed suit against Jones and the Washington Nationals in California Superior Court, San Diego County. That plaintiff, known in the case filings as Jane Doe, alleges Jones ‘had photos of Plaintiff’s naked breasts,’ ‘promised her that the photos would be kept between them,’ and that ‘after their relationship ended, Jones intentionally distributed the photos without Plaintiff’s consent.’ The suit alleges that the plaintiff suffered “general and special damages” from the distribution of those pictures.” If only Jones had kept those boobie pics to himself!