The Washington Nationals played the third game of their four game set against the San Diego Padres last night. The Nationals won 4-1, guaranteeing a winning record on this road trip and no worse than a split with the Padres going into this afternoon’s game at 4:10 PM ET. Let’s look at some of my takeaways from last night’s win:
It’s The Max Scherzer Show
Max Scherzer had a terrific outing. He struck out eleven and allowed no runs in seven innings, which lowered his ERA from 1.99 to 1.75. The best part of his pitching performance tonight was when the Padres managed to get runners on, Scherzer had another gear when he got into any kind of trouble.
In the fourth inning, the Padres loaded the bases with two out. Scherzer bore down and got Will Middlebrooks to pop out to shallow right field to end the inning.
In the seventh, the Padres had runners on the corners with one out and an excellent opportunity to push runs across in a game that was not out of reach. The Padres sent Derek Norris to the plate, who had the night off up to that point. Norris has been a Nat killer, but he didn’t kill them in this particular at-bat. Scherzer got Norris to strike out and then struck out Abraham Almonte to end the Padres threat.
Nationals Field Stronger Lineup
Jayson Werth did not play in Saturday night’s game due to soreness and swelling in his left wrist, which was hit by a pitch on Friday. Michael Taylor played left field for the Nationals. With Werth out, Matt Williams had to make some changes to the lineup.
Denard Span led off. Ian Desmond moved to the two spot in the lineup and Yunel Escobar went to the three hole. Bryce Harper hit fourth, Ryan Zimmerman fifth and Wilson Ramos sixth. This moved Danny Espinosa up to the seventh spot and Taylor into the eighth spot.
This, quite frankly, is a stronger lineup. Werth in the three spot has been a problem this season because he is not hitting. He was rushed back to the club as soon as he was ready to play, with no significant rehab work to get ready. He had no spring training to speak of. When the Nationals started off slow and the team as a whole was not producing at the plate, everyone panicked and thought they needed Werth to get into the lineup.
Now that the team is hitting better, Werth and his .200 batting average cannot stay in the three hole. If Werth is not sent on a rehab assignment after his wrist is better, he has to go to the eight spot. It is ridiculous that Espinosa is hitting eighth with a batting average of .276 while Werth is stranding runners at the top of the order.
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Harper Makes The Shift Hurt
With one out in the top of the fifth, the Padres put a shift on when Harper came to the plate. Harper did what Adam LaRoche would never do. He bunted toward third base and got an easy single.
Not only was this a terrific use of taking what the game gives you, but it is analytically the best way to beat the shift. It makes teams think twice about putting the shift on if a left-handed hitter demonstrates the willingness and ability to lay that bunt down toward third and gets a base hit.
This is yet another example of Harper being a student of the game and recognizing what needs to be done against the shift,/ This could be a signal to other teams that shifting may not be a good strategy against him.
The Nationals Can’t Escape From Craig Kimbrel
The Nationals used to have to deal with uber-closer Craig Kimbrel on a regular basis when he was with the Braves. All Nats fans were glad to see Kimbrel get out of the NL East and go to the west coast where the team didn’t have to face him as often.
With the Nationals nursing a 4-0 lead, the Padres used their closer in the top of the ninth to make sure the Nats didn’t tack on any more runs and put the game out of reach for the Padres in the bottom of the ninth.
As usual, Kimbrel blew through the Nats like a tornado. Taylor struck out and pinch hitter Tyler Moore struck out looking on a high fastball that might not have been a strike. Span stepped into the box 1-for-7 against Kimbrel. He left the box 2-for-8 with a double. Desmond had been struck out by Kimbrel all ten times he had faced him. Ian at least grounded out this time, but it was an out all the same.