After today’s game, Davey Johnson remarked: “That was real frustrating.”
Preach it, Davey.
After an All-Star break in which the Nats were able to rest and recuperate, fans sat back and evaluated the team’s disappointing first half. No overarching conclusions were reached, but there was a strong feeling of optimism. This team would finally match its potential, make a run, and win the division! The second half got off to an inauspicious start even before the game started, with news coming out that Adam LaRoche would miss the game with an illness. The game itself, of course, was significantly worse. The Nats’ offense continued to flounder, going 1-9 with RISP and scoring one run on a lucky wild pitch. One swing of the bat, a two-run homer by Hanley Ramirez off an otherwise-excellent Stephen Strasburg, kept the Dodgers even and spoiled a strong pitching effort. In the ninth, the Nats found a new way to lose, in having usually-reliable closer Rafael Soriano give up a solo home run. After the 3-2 defeat, the Nationals are back at .500 and in third place behind the Phillies. Perhaps most indicative of this season’s struggles is this stat: the Nats are 5-10 when Strasburg allows three earned runs or fewer. In 2012, they were 18-4 when he did that. If the Nats were winning those starts alone at last year’s pace, they would be 12-3 in them and tied for Atlanta with the division lead. Instead, they trail by seven games. The Nats will not be cooked for two months at least, not by a long shot. However, when the team plays like this, it’s hard to see that as anything but an inevitability. There is certainly still hope, but it’s getting harder to justify when it has existed for so long and has yet to materialize.
Most Important Nationals Hit: Bryce Harper‘s single (+14.7%)
Harper came to the plate with Ryan Zimmerman on first and no outs in the fourth. His single sent Zimmerman to third, and he moved up to second as the Dodgers attempted to throw out the advancing Zimmerman. From here, the Nats stagnated. Jayson Werth walked to load the bases, but Ian Desmond grounded into a fielder’s choice, Chad Tracy flew out, and Wilson Ramos grounded out to end the inning. Over those three batters, the Nats’ win expectancy dropped from 64.3% to 35.0%.
Most Important Nationals Pitch: Andre Ethier‘s solo home run (-34.8%)
In the ninth, Davey made a somewhat uncharacteristic move: he put in Soriano, the closer, for the ninth inning in a tie game. He is more apt to do this at home, when no save situation can arise, but almost exclusively puts in Soriano in save situations. New-wave baseball analysis would deem this move wise and praise Davey for using his best reliever even in a non-save situation, but reality was harsher. Soriano gave up his second home run in three appearances, and Ethier’s bomb proved to be the difference.
Champ of the Game: Harper (+16.2%) was one of the offense’s few bright spots today, going 2-4 with a run scored. He was one of three Nats with two hits, but he had the benefit of the timely single above, and the other two, Zimmerman and Desmond, had a combined WPA of +4.7%. For Los Angeles, Ethier (+35.4%) was 1-3 with a walk, but his one hit (and one RBI and one run scored) made all the difference.
Chump of the Game: Soriano (-31.5%) took the loss by allowing a run, but was perplexed postgame as to how the pitch got out. The slider looked good to him, and he simply said “I don’t know how he hit that ball.” Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis (-13.0%) was 0-4.