Observations from and analysis of the Nats’ NLDS Game 3 loss at the Cubs
NLDS Game 3: Nationals lost at the Cubs 2-1 to fall behind in the series 2-1 on Monday (Oct. 9, 2017)
1. This loss starts with more impotence from the Nats’ supposedly-mighty offense. The Nats scored one run on three hits and a walk. The team that led the National League in OPS (.782) during the regular season now has a .431 OPS over three games this postseason.
- Trea Turner went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and now is 0-for-12 with five strikeouts in the series. Turner got ahead of Jose Quintana 2-1 but ended up striking out swinging on seven pitches to end the top of the fifth. Turner getting robbed by a great diving stop by second baseman Ben Zobrist on a groundout to begin the top of the eighth pretty much captured how things have gone for The Burner.
- Bryce Harper went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and now is 2-for-12 in the series. Of course, one of the hits was the game-tying two-run homer in the epic five-run eighth in the Nats’ 6-3 win in Game 2. Harper faced the man he that home run off of, Carl Edwards, in the top of the eighth in Game 3 but struck out swinging on five pitches. Harper also struck out swinging on four pitches against Jose Quintana to begin the top of the sixth.
- Anthony Rendon went 0-for-4 and now is 1-for-10 with two walks in the series.
- Daniel Murphy went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and now is 1-for-11 with one walk in the series.
- Matt Wieters went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and now is 0-for-8 with three strikeouts and two hit-by-pitches in the series.
2. But as bad as the Nats’ offense continued to be, this game almost certainly will be most remembered for multiple blunders by Dusty Baker. Let’s go through the questionable decisions step-by-step in our #strategery evaluation:
- Continuing to bat Matt Wieters in the no. 7 spot and Michael A. Taylor in the no. 8 spot – Dusty did this for a third straight game in this series. Wieters was the worst-hitting regular catcher in the majors this season and should be batting in the no. 8 spot. This bit the Nats in the top of the second, which ended with Wieters striking out swinging on eight pitches with Jayson Werth on first off a two-out single. Taylor should have been up at the plate in that spot.
- Not pinch-hitting for Max Scherzer in the top of the seventh – I was OK with this, although it clearly was not the right call given what we now know. The Nats were leading 1-0 with two outs when Scherzer came to bat. He had thrown six no-hit innings, although the bottom of the sixth had included a hard-hit lineout by Jon Jay and then a walk of Kris Bryant. Dusty has two very good pinch hitters in Adam Lind and Howie Kendrick on the Nats’ bench. I would not have had a problem with Dusty pinch-hitting for Scherzer in this spot, but I was fine with that not happening. Scherzer is an elite starting pitcher, and I get it if Dusty felt that he could get another inning or two out of Scherzer.
- Removing Scherzer in the bottom of the seventh – I was also fine with this. Scherzer began the half inning by striking out Wilson Contreras on six pitches and then doing the classic Max March around the mound. But then came a double by Ben Zobrist, and Dusty yanked Scherzer after a rather lengthy conference on the mound. This was totally the right call. One of the most important jobs of a manager in the postseason is to remove his starting pitcher before he struggles, not after. Scherzer, who hadn’t pitched since Sept. 30 due to an injured right hamstring and said the day before this game that he was “fully anticipating being able to throw 100 pitches,” was at 98 pitches. The choice isn’t between Max Scherzer and a reliever; it’s between a diminished and injured Max Scherzer and a reliever. That’s a big difference.
- Bringing in Sammy Solis for Scherzer in the bottom of the seventh – This was the first major mistake by Dusty. I have a mantra that I have been shouting for weeks: Core Four And Nothing More. The Nats’ bullpen, even as it got better this season, only truly had four guys you could trust: Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle and Matt Albers. They are the Core Four. They are the only Nats relievers who should be used in big spots this postseason. Solis, a lefty, had a 5.88 ERA over just 26 innings during the regular season. Him being brought in led to Joe Maddon pinch-hitting for Kyle Schwarber with Albert Almora Jr., who is a righty. Righties had a .757 OPS against Solis during the regular season. And while you might say that you would rather have faced Almora than Schwarber, I would much rather have had oh, I don’t know, one of my four best relievers on the mound in a high-leverage spot such as this one: nursing a 1-0 lead with a runner on second and one out. Madson, Doolittle and Albers shredded right-handed batters this season. I would have much preferred one of them versus Schwarber as opposed to Solis versus anyone. The result? A game-tying RBI single. And then Dusty left Solis in the game to face the lefty Jason Heyward. That result? Another single.
- Replacing Brandon Kintzler with Oliver Perez in the bottom of the eighth – Kintzler replaced Solis after the Heyward single in the bottom of the seventh and got Addison Russell to line into a huge inning-ending double play, as Michael A. Taylor made a nice running catch and then spin-throw to Daniel Murphy, who, off stumbling, doubled-off Heyward at first. Kintzler in the bottom of the eighth with the game tied at one had a runner on second with two outs and lefty Anthony Rizzo coming to bat. Now Kintzler was quite good against lefties during the regular season (.535 OPS allowed). But if Dusty felt that Kintzler was fatiguing, fine, no problem. The problem was bringing in Perez, who a) had a 4.64 ERA over 33 innings during the regular season b) had given up two home runs in nine at-bats against Rizzo and c) is not a member of the Core Four. Doolittle, a lefty, was lethal against lefties during the regular season (.371 OPS allowed). Why wasn’t be brought in instead of Perez? Because Doolittle is the “closer?” Rizzo ended up singling to shallow center to score pinch-runner Leonys Martin and give the Cubs a 2-1 lead. That the ball was softly hit and landed in just the right spot doesn’t make Dusty’s decision to have Perez face Rizzo any better. Doolittle is the Nats’ ace reliever; he is a high-leverage weapon to be deployed whenever necessary. That Dusty didn’t go to Doolittle was shameful.
- Not intentionally-walking Rizzo in the bottom of the eighth – If Dusty was going to insist on Perez pitching, then why wasn’t Rizzo intentionally-walked with first base open? Did you see what Rizzo screamed after his RBI single? “Respect me!”
- Not replacing Jayson Werth in left field in the bottom of the seventh or eighth – Once the Nats got that 1-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth on the Ryan Zimmerman RBI double, Dusty needed to be thinking about protecting that lead. Werth is a liability in left field. And while Howie Kendrick isn’t a great defender, you could argue that he’s better than Werth. Personally, I would have put the uber-fast Victor Robles in left. He might have gotten to (or at least dove for) the Rizzo RBI single that landed in no-man’s land in shallow center.
Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker answers questions after Game 3 of the National League Division Series baseball game against the Chicago Cubs Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Chicago. The Cubs won 2-1 to take a 2-1 lead in the series. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
3. Max Scherzer clearly was not 100 percent with his injured right hamstring, tapping it multiple times throughout the course of the game. And so that made what he did all the more impressive: one run in 6 1/3 innings on seven strikeouts versus just one hit (a Ben Zobrist double), three walks and a hit-by-pitch on 98 pitches. Scherzer’s control started fading in the bottom of the fourth, but he battled. Heck, the guy threw a no-hitter through 6 1/3 innings.
4. So much of this game was about defense – both good and bad.
- Bottom of the eighth – Jayson Werth, Michael A. Taylor and Trea Turner all converged on a softly hit ball that ended up being an RBI single by Anthony Rizzo, who would get throw out between first and second to end the inning. Taylor pulled up, and the ball just dropped in for a hit. That he didn’t take charge and dive for the ball was painful.
- Top of the eighth – Ben Zobrist made a great diving stab of a Trea Turner groundball for a groundout to begin the inning.
- Bottom of the seventh – Michael A. Taylor made a nice running catch on an Addison Russell liner and then spun and threw to Daniel Murphy, who stumbled by ultimately doubled-off Jason Heyward at first base to end the inning.
- Top of the seventh – Taylor was robbed by Russell, who made a spectacular diving stab nearly behind second base and then throw to a stretched-out Anthony Rizzo for a groundout.
- Bottom of the sixth – Taylor made a nice running catch of a Jon Jay shot to the warning track for the first out.
- Top of the sixth – Kyle Schwarber committed two errors on one play, a Daniel Murphy fly ball to deep left near the foul line. The result was Murphy getting to third, and he scored on Ryan Zimmerman’s two-out RBI double off Pedro Strop.
- Bottom of the fourth – Trea Turner was charged with a throwing error on a double play that wasn’t, but the truth is that Zimmerman prematurely stretched and thus didn’t catch what was a catchable throw. This is exhibit A for why “errors” are a bad measure of defense.
- Top of the fourth – Jay made a nice running back-handed catch of a Matt Wieters fly ball on the warning track with a runner on first for the final out.
- Top of the third – Jason Heyward made a nice catch of an Anthony Rendon shot to the warning track for the final out with runners on first and third off two errors earlier in the inning by the Cubs.
- Zimmerman made two nice defensive plays over the first two innings: a nice catch of a Ben Zobrist grounder down the first-base line for the second out in the bottom of the second and an impressive tag off a wild throw by Anthony Rendon on a John Jay groundout that began the bottom of the first.