Today’s game was a tough-luck loss for the Nationals. Former number one overall pick and All-Star Corey Kluber outdueled the relatively unknown Stephen Strasburg, who has a 4.76 career ERA, as the preseason World Series favorite Cleveland Indians shut out the Washington Nationals, who lost 94 games in 2012, to win the series.
Switch all of the adjectives in that sentence and you have what really happened. This game was a microcosm of the Nationals’ season: they were shut out despite the fanfare and expectations, this time surrounding Strasburg’s return from the DL. Despite allowing just one hit in five innings, Strasburg took the loss, and has now allowed one earned run or fewer in three of his six starts. He appears to be snakebitten in terms of run support, much like Jordan Zimmermann was last season. In fact, the Nats outhit the Indians 7-4, but failed to convert on multiple opportunities. Twice the Nats had runners on the corners with no outs, and once loaded the bases with no outs, but failed to score all three times. The Nats have been league-average in driving in runners on base this season, which means they were simply unlucky today. It should be taken as a sign of encouragement that they were in position to score. Today’s loss was discouraging, but not particularly indicative of major overall problems. But when is Bryce Harper coming back, again?
Most Important Nationals Hit: Jhonatan Solano grounds into double play (-29.0%)
With the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth inning, it looked like the Nats might finally break through and get a run across, trailing only by one. Solano made good contact, but his liner went right to Indians 3B Mark Reynolds, who quickly doubled Steve Lombardozzi off first base. If his drive is a few more feet to the right, it would have been a two run single, and is perhaps the best example of how unlucky the Nats were today.
Most Important Nationals Pitch: Mike Aviles grounds into double play (+7.3%)
Lost in all of this is how excellent the pitching was. Strasburg had a little trouble in the first inning, but deftly avoided it. He walked Michael Bourn to lead the game off, but got Aviles to ground into a double play to erase that threat. He would walk another batter in the first, and a walk, an error, and the only hit he yielded in the fifth drove in a run. Overall, he walked a surprisingly high four batters and struck out only in five innings, but the Nats have no complaints about his one hit or one run allowed.
Champ of the Game: The Nationals’ best (healthy) hitter is a rookie who was in AA two weeks ago. Anthony Rendon (+15.4%) continued to rake, going 3-4 today. He has a hit in all nine games he has played since being called up, and is now 16-36 (.444) with a homer and six doubles in that span. For the Indians, Kluber (+57.2%) went eight shutout innings, allowing seven hits and striking out eight while walking none.
Chump of the Game: Solano (-33.7%) takes this dishonor thanks to his unfortunate double play, but Adam LaRoche (-33.0%) wasn’t far behind with a double play groundout of his own. They were a combined 0-7, and LaRoche is now in a mini-slump, going 0-15 after the end of his nine-game hitting streak. Aviles (-12.2%) was 0-3 with a sacrifice and his own GIDP.