The Nationals had arguably their most odd game of the season on Thursday. The show got started when Lane Thomas hit a three-run homerun after back-to-back singles by Joey Meneses and Dom Smith, a hopeful sign that the Nats' right fielder has finally turned it around after a dreadful start to the season. The homerun was Thomas' second of the series (and season).
Aside from that shot from Thomas, the game was exceptionally quiet on both sides. Cubs' righty Javier Assad relieved starter Jameson Taillon in the 4th inning as Taillon was on a pitch count as he was returing from the injured list and Assad would go on to pitch 5 scoreless innings in relief with 2 hits, no walks and a strikeout. Taillon's only damage came on the single-single-homerun sequence in the 2nd inning, but otherwise allowed no hits or walks in his 3 innings of work and added 4 strikeouts.
The real story of the game was Patrick Corbin. The bar has been exponentially lowered in recent years as to what qualified as a good start for Corbin. Basically all Nationals fans have long since accepted that the days of 2018/2019 Patrick Corbin were long gone, and deservedly so as Corbin has statistically been the worst pitcher in baseball each of the past three seasons.
To his credit, Corbin has been much more competitive this season despite his surface numbers. He certainly hasn't been his 2018/19 self, but it has been better. Like I said, the bar was really lowered.
However, Corbin turned back the clock on Thursday and gave a performance we did not think we would see again. Corbin was exceptional, even more exceptional than his final statline indicated. If not for a ball getting lost in the sun in the second inning, Corbin would have pitch 7 perfect innings. In the 8th inning, Corbin allowed back-to-back singles to start the inning and manager Davey Martinez elected to pull his lefty starter after just 80 pitches in favor of Hunter Harvey, who had pitched both days prior. Harvey, cleared not his usual self, allowed a double to Trey Mancini and a single to Miguel Amaya which tied the game at 3 to 3. Two of those runs were credited to Corbin, who was then not eligible for the victory after the game was tied. Nevertheless, Corbin had one of his best starts as a National.
The decision to go to Hunter Harvey for a third straight day was a puzzling one by Davey Martinez, especially since Harvey has a history of major arm injuries. Martinez has predisposed notions of "A" bullpens and "B" bullpens and rarely deviates from them. The Nationals had won the two previous games, which called for the "A" bullpen of Harvey and Finnegan, who also pitched three days in a row and nearly gave up the lead in the 9th. Naturally, there will be relievers you trust more and who are more reliable than others, but to not weigh all of the factors is a bit alarming, especially considering Martinez's long history of bullpen mismanagement.
Luckily for Davey Martinez and the Nationals, Kyle Finnegan was able to just barely get out of the 9th inning without allowing a run, giving the ball back to the offense with a tie game. And on the first pitch in the bottom of the 9th against Cubs' reliever Brad Boxberger, Alex answered the Call.
It was a rollercoaster game for the Nationals, who wound up taking 3 for 4 games from the Cubs with the walk-off win on Thursday. The pitching certainly carried them, as Trevor Williams, Jake Irvin and Patrick Corbin combined for 16.2 innings and just 3 runs allowed in their three victories. The Nationals also went 3 games in the series without drawing a single walk, which has been a recurring issue with the offense. Their philosophy is to be aggressive early in the count, which leads to a lot of weak contact as team's are aware of this strategy and pitch accordingly. The Nationals need to do better about working counts and drawing walks. They only had ONE at bat with a runner in scoring position, which came on Thomas' homerun.
The final takeway from the game is Riley Adams. While he went 0-3 with 2 strikeouts at the plate, he has developed a rapport with Patrick Corbin that is quite noticeable in the boxscores. Patrick Corbin has a career 3.96 ERA when pitching to Riley Adams (91 innings) as opposed to a career 6.81 ERA (104 innings) when pitching to Keibert Ruiz. This season, Corbin has a 3.65 ERA pitching to Adams in 12.1 innings versus a 5.88 ERA pitching to Ruiz in 26 innings. The results might force the Nationals hand and let Adams catch every 5th day for Corbin. It would serve as a way to get Adams regular playing time as part of a set rotation and Ruiz could regularly catch the other starters.