The Washington Nationals began a three game series with the Miami Marlins on Friday night at Nationals Park. The Nats, if they have any hope of catching the Mets for the NL East crown, have to win games against teams with losing records. They did not manage to do so on Friday. The loss last night demonstrated what has been wrong with the Nationals since, well, it feels like forever.
The Nationals were facing a young, inexperienced pitcher for the Marlins. Adam Conley had two major league starts this year and was sporting an ERA of 4.88 coming into last night. As the Nats typically do against a pitcher they haven’t seen before, they allowed Conley to stymie them for five innings. When they finally broke through against Conley, they could not get runs across the plate.
As for the starting pitchers, they never seems to identify that hitter in the lineup that needs to be walked. That hitter tonight against Max Scherzer was Martin Prado. Prado owns Scherzer, hitting .462 lifetime against him and has a .400 career batting average at Nationals Park. Combine those two stats together and what you have is Prado having a 2-for-3 night against Scherzer. Prado scored after reaching on a single in the first and hit a two-run homer in the third. Other teams walk Bryce Harper constantly because they have identified him as the batter that is most likely to hurt them. The Nats’ pitchers just have not done the same.
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The frustrating ineffectiveness of the Nationals ability to drive in runs was on display in the bottom of the sixth inning, when the Nats loaded the bases twice in that inning and only managed to score one run on a Ryan Zimmerman sacrifice fly.
The offense got to Conley in the sixth inning and loaded the bases immediately with no one out. Conley was replaced on the mound by Kyle Barraclough. Barraclough was called up to the Major Leagues on August 8th and has had eight relief appearances. That’s it. He’s been pitching well for the Marlins, but it was clear as the inning went on, he was feeling the pressure of the situation.
Zimmerman greeted Barraclough with the sacrifice that brought in one run. That made the score 4-3 in favor of the Marlins and it looked like the Nationals were in a position to take the lead.
During Ian Desmond’s at bat, Barraclough threw a pitch that got away from the catcher, which allowed Rendon and Harper to move up. Desmond had a runner at third with less than two outs–another sacrifice opportunity that would have tied the game. Instead, Desmond struck out on an outside pitch that was at least a foot off the plate.
Danny Espinosa worked a walk as he fouled off close pitches during the at-bat. With the bases loaded again, Wilson Ramos had no patience at the plate. The first pitch from Barraclough was a ball. Ramos swung at the second pitch and hit a ball back toward the pitcher that deflected off his glove right to Dee Gordon at second. That was the end of the inning and the end of the Nats’ scoring chances.
If I had a dollar for every time the Nationals have had the bases loaded and either only scored one run or scored none at all, I could retire.At least one aspect of the Nationals game was working well tonight. The bullpen held the line in the eighth and ninth innings and did not allow a run.
Another frustrating game, another frustrating loss. Another loss that the Nationals cannot afford.