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Nationals let another one slip away


Nationals let another one slip away

You're not going to win every game. Nobody does. But when you've got significant ground to make up and not a lot of time to do it, you can't afford to give away games that were there for the taking.

Which is exactly what the Nationals have done too many times over the last month, culminating with Monday night's latest gut-punch: an 8-5 loss to the Cardinals that included all kinds of failed execution at critical moments late.

When Ryan Zimmerman launched a 3-run homer off Kevin Siegrist in the top of the seventh, there was for a moment as much of a positive vibe surrounding this team as there had been in a really long time. Zimmerman's blast — which gave him 28 RBI for the month, tying a club record also held by Bryce Harper (May 2015) and Ian Desmond (June 2013) — gave the Nationals a 5-3 lead. Against a Cardinals team they've long struggled to overcome. At Busch Stadium, where they hadn't won since Game 1 of the 2012 NLDS.

This felt like a potential defining moment for the Nats. They had been playing better baseball, winning four consecutive series, and now they were in position to take the opener of perhaps their toughest road series of the season, against a Cardinals club that doesn't seem to ever lose at home.

And then ... well, you saw what happened. St. Louis scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh, all with two outs. And just when you thought the Nationals might have one last rally in them, with Bryce Harper at the plate representing the tying run in the ninth, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon got caught in no-man's land on the bases, giving away a precious out and whatever momentum they had briefly captured.

How in the world did they blow this one? Let us count the ways...

— Casey Janssen gave up four runs on four hits and a walk during that fateful bottom of the seventh, an inning that included a slow cover of first base on a grounder to the right side of the infield, not to mention a four-pitch walk to Matt Carpenter. In spite of all that, Janssen was just one pitch from getting out of the inning unscathed. And he threw a good pitch to Stephen Piscotty — a 2-2 curveball that was 12 inches off the ground — only to watch as the Cardinals rookie golfed it into shallow left field for an RBI single. And then he threw another good pitch to Jhonny Peralta — a 2-2 changeup down and away — only to watch as the Cardinals veteran poked it into right-center field for the game-tying single.

— Felipe Rivero let the go-ahead run (and then two more) score after replacing Janssen, the critical moment coming on a 2-1 fastball over the heart of the plate to Jason Heyward, who drilled it to deep left field, over Werth's outstretched reach, for a double that put St. Louis back on top for good.

— Werth couldn't make either of two plays in left field that would have ended the inning: Piscotty's single in front of him, then Heyward's double over his head. He was in "no doubles" defense on the Piscotty hit, playing too deep to get to the ball hit in front of him. Then he was in a standard position on Heyward's hit, playing too shallow to get to the ball hit behind him.

— Werth and Rendon ran themselves into an out in the top of the ninth when the former took off for third base on Trevor Rosenthal's pitch to the backstop, only to hit the brakes after a couple steps and retreat to second base. Unfortunately, Rendon (the trailing runner) didn't see Werth stop until it was too late, leaving him in a rundown near first base. All of this came with Harper at the plate and a chance to tie the game with one swing.

— Matt Williams managed "by the book" at a time when something more aggressive might have been necessary. The decision to leave Janssen in wasn't necessarily the real mistake: As stated above, the right-hander made two good pitches that should've gotten him out of the inning with no runs crossing the plate. Besides, had he pulled Janssen and brought in Drew Storen an inning earlier than usual to try to get Peralta, he would've lost the lefty-lefty matchup he sought for the subsequent Heyward at-bat. Williams' bigger infraction might have been the decision to keep Werth in left field after his team took the lead. Werth's declining defensive skills are no secret; everyone sees them. So why wasn't Matt den Dekker inserted to take his spot? Would den Dekker have caught either the Piscotty or Heyward hits? We'll never know. But he probably would've had a better chance.

Whatever you want to pin this loss on, whoever you want to blame for it, the simple fact is the Nationals didn't execute when it really mattered late in this game. Just as they didn't do during their two previous losses, at home against the Padres and the Marlins.

Both of those games, like this one, were there for the taking. But in a 1-run game against the Padres, Yunel Escobar swung away 3-0 with the bases loaded and grounded into a 5-4-3 double play that killed the Nats' chances of a come-from-behind win. Then in another 1-run game against the Marlins, Max Scherzer lost to Adam Conley and the Nationals managed only one run out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation.

These are the kind of losses that stick with you, losses that could've turned into wins with only one hit in a big spot, one pitch with the game on the line, one strong defensive play when it was needed most.

No, you can't win every game. But the Nationals have lost only three games in the last 10 days, and all three were games that were there for the taking, if only with a little better execution.

At this time of year, given the deficit they face, they simply couldn't afford to lose games like that.

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Former Nats manager Jim Riggleman named interim manager of Reds

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Former Nats manager Jim Riggleman named interim manager of Reds

Remember Jim Riggleman, the infamous Nats manager that resigned from the position back in 2011 after a win against the Seattle Mariners? Well he's back in a managerial position.

Bryan Price was fired as manager of the Cinncinati Reds Thursday, after the team started the 2018 season 3-15. Riggleman, who spent four seasons as their bench coach, was named the interim manager to replace Price.

Riggleman was promoted to interim manager of the Nats in July of 2009, after Manny Acta was let go midseason. He stayed on as manager for 2010 and 2011, and he then resigned from the team on June 23, 2011 after a win agaisnt the Seattle Mariners. He had lead the team to a win in 11 of their last 12 games prior to stepping away.

The reason behind the dramatic exit was due to the organization not yet picking up his 2012 contract option. He had reportedly requested a conversation with the front office about his future with the organization, and was upset after they declined. At 58 years-old, he felt he deserved more respect.

He's been with the Reds organization since 2012, and has spent time managing the Padres, Cubs and Mariners, in addition to the Nationals. His career winning pct. with each team has been below-.500.


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Nationals fall after Mets score 9 runs in 8th inning

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Nationals fall after Mets score 9 runs in 8th inning

NEW YORK -- Yoenis Cespedes launched a grand slam during a nine-run outburst in the eighth inning that rallied the New York Mets past the Washington Nationals 11-5 on Wednesday night, preventing a three-game sweep.

Todd Frazier tied it at 4 with a two-run single and pinch-hitter Juan Lagares put New York ahead for the first time with a two-run double off ineffective setup man Ryan Madson (0-2).

Shut down by Tanner Roark for seven innings, the first-place Mets broke loose in the eighth and improved to 13-4 with a stirring victory against their NL East rivals.

Ryan Zimmerman homered twice, tripled and drove in four runs for the Nationals, who pulled off their own big comeback in the eighth inning of the series opener.

Two nights later, New York returned the favor.

Roark limited the Mets to two hits and left leading 4-2. Michael Conforto, Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera singled off Madson to load the bases with nobody out in the eighth. Jay Bruce fouled out before Frazier smacked a two-run single up the middle and advanced to second on the throw home.

After an intentional walk to Adrian Gonzalez loaded the bases again, pinch-hitter Wilmer Flores struck out. Lagares then lined a two-run double the other way, just inside the right-field line at the outer edge of the infield grass, to put the Mets up 6-4.

Sammy Solis walked Amed Rosario and Conforto to force in a run. Cespedes connected for his sixth career slam -- the third by the Mets already this season -- off A.J. Cole, sending fans into a frenzy.

Both of Cespedes' hits in the inning came on 0-2 pitches.

AJ Ramos (1-1) worked a perfect inning for his first win with the Mets since being acquired from Miami last July.

Howie Kendrick reached on an infield single for Washington in the first and Bryce Harper drew his 24th walk, most in the majors. Zimmerman, batting .121 at that point and struggling to make opponents pay for bypassing Harper, came through with a drive to left-center off Steven Matz for his second home run of the season.

Matz steadied himself after a 33-pitch first inning and retired his final 10 batters. He was pulled for a pinch hitter in the fourth after throwing 74 pitches.

Cabrera doubled to open the fourth and scored on Gonzalez's single. Zimmerman had a chance to start an inning-ending double play, but his throwing error from first base allowed another run to score on Jose Lobaton's RBI grounder as the Mets cut it to 3-2.

After Mets pitchers retired 16 in a row, Zimmerman's leadoff triple in the seventh got past a diving Bruce in right field, and Moises Sierra followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2.

Zimmerman also hit a solo homer in the ninth.