After an encouraging win to start this series, it has been nothing but downhill. A crushing extra-inning loss was bad, but today’s game was worse. Zach Duke blew the game, as is his wont. The Nationals are now below .500 for the first time since April 30th. However, I will continue to be optimistic until the Nats get mathematically eliminated. Obviously, the team will struggle with the current injury situation. Six players appeared in the game today that would not have if it were not for injuries: starter Nate Karns, position players Steve Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore, and Jhonatan Solano, and relievers Fernando Abad and Erik Davis. The relievers did not allow a run, but Karns allowed four runs in 4.2 IP and the position players were a combined 2-10.
Fortunately, all of their roles will be reduced soon. Jayson Werth will come off the DL on Tuesday most likely, and Ross Detwiler should make his next start. Anthony Rendon was 1-2 with solid defense at second in his first AAA game; he will be up soon as Danny Espinosa and Lombardozzi continue to struggle. Duke and his 8.71 ERA will run out of rope soon enough, and the seemingly better Davis or Abad will stay up in his place. When Bryce Harper returns to lineup, it should look like this: Span, Werth, Harper, Zimmerman, LaRoche, Desmond, Rendon, Suzuki, pitcher. That lineup will be infinitely more productive than the Nats are now. Hope is not lost, but it’s easy to unnecessarily lose sight of it.
Most Important Nationals Hit: Ian Desmond‘s solo homer (+11.1%)
Desmond’s home run would have been much more impactful if it had come an inning earlier. In the fifth, Karns was pulled and Duke allowed an inherited runner to score, doubling the Nats’ deficit at 4-2. The solo bomb made it 4-3, but that would be as close as the Nats would get for the rest of the game, as the offense was stifled again. In addition to managing only five hits, the Nats failed to walk even once, and have now walked just six times in their past seven games.
Most Important Nationals Pitch: Ramiro Pena‘s two-run homer (-16.1%)
After Ryan Zimmerman let Andrelton Simmons reach on a throwing error as the game’s first batter, Pena immediately made the Nats pay. He took Karns deep to put the Braves up early. It is easy to blame Karns for today’s game, and somewhat reasonable as he took the loss and allowed more runs than the Nats scored, but he kept the team in the game, which is as much as can be asked of a rookie straight from AA.
Champ of the Game: Desmond (+14.9%) was excellent, going 2-4 with two runs scored and an RBI, including his homer. Pena (+12.2%) was the top Brave, despite going 0-3 after his homer. His WPA may seem low for being on a winning team that scored six runs, but it was a team effort by Atlanta, as each offensive starter reached base at least once.
Champ of the Game: Duke (-28.1%) allowed two runs on two hits and four (!!!) walks in 0.2 innings, but it could have been worse. He allowed an inherited runner to score from Karns, and was inches from allowing a grand slam to Freddie Freeman in the sixth. Instead he was lifted with one out and two runners in scoring position, a jam that Davis was able to escape in his first-ever MLB appearance. For the Braves, Evan Gattis (-7.8%) was 0-3 with two Ks, although he walked once.