The Washington Nationals came into the three-game set against the St. Louis Cardinals in need of a good showing, possibly even a series win, to keep up with the New York Mets and keep their playoff hopes alive. The only problem: The Cardinals are the best team in baseball and almost impossible to beat at home. This proved true last night as the Nats fell to the Cardinals 8-5. Let’s take a look at some key takeaways from last night’s loss and familiar themes in Nationals’ losses this year.
It’s a game of inches.
In a couple of key spots in the game a matter of inches decided the fate of both clubs, particularly in the bottom of the fourth where the Cardinals were able to put up their first big crooked number of the night.
First, Jason Heyward knocked a chopper just inches out of the reach of Gio Gonzalez‘s outstretched glove putting him on base. Right after that at bat, Yadier Molina roped one to the gap in right center where Bryce Harper came within an inch of making a great catch. If you make those two plays, those three runs do not score and we may have a different ballgame.
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Managers can change the outcome.
Mike Matheny almost booted this one away from the Cardinals in the top of the seventh. With Kevin Siegrist pitching, and not one, but two, lefties warming up in the bullpen to face Bryce Harper, Molina inexplicably left Siegrist in the game. After they smartly pitched around Bryce, the lefty-righty matchup against Ryan Zimmerman came back to haunt the Cards with Zimmerman launching a three-run blast into the batters eye.
Matt Williams had similar bullpen issues in the bottom of the seventh where he dogmatically put Casey Janssen into high-leverage, seventh-inning situations. Time and time again, Williams refuses to look at matchups or situations to determine his reliever and instead goes with his “seventh inning guy”.
In addition, it was obvious from the start that Janssen did not have his best stuff and he was laboring with a high pitch count. Once again, Matt Williams left a pitcher in for one batter too many and Janssen gave up too many hits. Felipe Rivero was unable to stem the damage in an unfavorable matchup for him against Heyward and by that point the lead was gone.
When you put the ball in play, good things happen.
The Nationals do not have a contact hitting lineup; they have a power hitting lineup and when they are not putting the ball over the fence, they struggle.
The Cardinals have a contact hitting lineup and they follow the adage that when you put the ball in play good things happen. St. Louis did not have an extra base hit until Jason Heyward doubled in the bottom of the seventh for the team’s seventh run. All of their other runs in the game were off a string of singles and timely hits. That is incredibly impressive and something the Nats need to do more of down the stretch.
The Cardinals are the standard in the National League right now. If the Nats want to make it to the next level, they need to make the little things count, put the ball in play more, and manage their bullpen just a bit better.