Game 14: Astros 11, Nationals 4


Well, at least the Capitals won tonight.

In a 162 game season, every team, even the eventual World Series champion, will have nights like the Washington Nationals had this evening, getting blasted off the field by the consensus worst team in baseball, the Houston Astros, 11-4. The loss marked the second time on this homestand that the Nationals squandered a chance at their first ever sweep of a four-game home series. The resounding defeat drops their 2012 record to a still fine 10-4.

Despite his speed and electric pitching repertoire, tonight showed why inconsistent Edwin Jackson has already played for six major league clubs. He is like the proverbial “little girl with the curl” or a gorgeous, but slightly unstable girlfriend, “when she’s good, she’s very, very good, but when she’s bad, she’s really bad.”

In the first inning, Jackson was bad Edwin, surrendering five runs on six hits, including three triples. After that, he reverted to good Edwin, the one who pitched a complete game 2-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds, one of the NL’s top hitting teams. He surrendered only one hit in the next four innings, as the Nats, thanks mainly to Ryan Zimmerman‘s three-run homer, clawed back to trail 5-4. A poor team that lost 106 games last season, Houston looked poised to blow yet another game as their talented young starter, Bud Norris, struggled.

Then, Tom Gorzelanny relieved Jackson in the sixth and performed a reprise of Jackson’s first inning meltdown. Seven batters later, Houston had five more runs, including a two-RBI single by Norris and the competitive portion of the evening was over.

The Nationals are 6-2 on their season-opening 11-game homestand, but now must face their nemesis, the red-hot Miami Marlins. The Marlins, with temperamental manager Ozzie Guillen back in the dugout, come into Washington fresh off a three-game beat down of the Chicago Cubs. While in past years, the Nationals may have been quietly pleased with a 6-5 mark for an 11-game set at home, that sort of performance no longer qualifies as “success” for Mike Rizzo, Davey Johnson, and the players themselves. They all expect better.  The upcoming series with the Marlins marks their first real test of the young season.

Champ of the Game: Ryan Zimmerman went 1-5, but had a 3-run HR. Stephen Lombardozzi, starting at shortstop to give Ian Desmond a day off, had two hits as did Danny Espinosa.

For the Astros, they gave the Nationals a clinic on situational hitting, going 9-12 with runners in scoring position. They banged out 17 hits: Brian Bogusevic and Jason Castro had three apiece. Four other players had two hits, nine different Astros scored runs (Matt Downs scored three) and five had two RBI. Truly a team-wide offensive party for Houston.

Chumps of the Game: Jackson and Gorzelanny each allowed a 5-run inning, more runs than Houston scored in the other three games of the series, combined.

Washington hitters failed numerous times with runners in scoring position, going 2-10 and twice coming up empty with two runners on base and one out when the score was still close, 5-4. The inability to hit with runners in scoring position may well end up being the Achilles heel of this team and what, eventually, prevents them from contending for the playoffs. While it is still too early to make these judgments, the trend is unmistakable and troubling.

For Houston, no one deserves the “chump”label. Norris battled for six innings without his best stuff and the bullpen preserved his win with three innings of shutout relief. The Astros hit on all cylinders tonight.

Next Game: Tomorrow night, Friday, April 20, 7:05 p.m. vs. Miami. Carlos Zambrano vs. Ross Detwiler. How will the Nationals fare against a team that has had their number for years?