Nationals

Quick Links

Nats fail to execute in 2-1 loss

767348.png

Nats fail to execute in 2-1 loss

They'd been in this situation plenty of times already this season, locked into a tense, low-scoring affair that would be decided by one big hit.

"We've played a million one-run games," Ryan Zimmerman said. "So it's not really anything big."

And yet after watching the Nationals fail at the plate on several occasions during Friday night's 2-1, 11-inning loss to the Orioles, it would be easy to question whether this lineup was getting caught up in the moment and trying too hard to make something happen.

There were just too many instances of poor execution, whether in the form of fouled-off bunt attempts, a botched hit-and-run or watching strike three whisk by right down the heart of the plate to think otherwise.

"We get in that situation, and we get a little over-anxious," manager Davey Johnson said. "Just trying too hard, the way I figure it, and not letting them come to us."

The opener of the most-anticipated Battle of the Beltways since the series commenced in 2006 lived up to the hype, with an energetic crowd of 36,680 on hand. Two upper-division clubs that have enjoyed success this season behind stellar pitching got a couple more dominant performances from their hurlers, with Baltimore's Jake Arrieta allowing one run over seven innings and Washington's Edwin Jackson doing his counterpart one better and making it through the eighth.

Ultimately, Nick Markakis' towering homer off Ryan Mattheus in the top of the 11th -- it struck the facing of the second deck down the right-field line -- decided this one, a tough blow for a Nationals pitching staff that had hung on all night to that point.

"I made a bad pitch," Mattheus said of his 2-2 slider down and in to Markakis. "He's a good hitter, and that's what good hitters do with bad pitches."

Mattheus, though, might never have found himself in that situation had the Nationals lineup managed to push across just one more run at any point during the previous 10 innings.

They didn't have many opportunities against Arrieta and four Orioles relievers, but what opportunities they did have were mostly squandered. Only Ian Desmond's solo homer in the sixth resulted in a run for the home team.

The Nationals went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. They weren't much better with a man on first base, either.

Such was the case in the bottom of the fifth, when Johnson called for a hit-and-run with Jackson at the plate and slow-footed catcher Jesus Flores on first. Jackson whiffed at Arrieta's pitch, and Matt Wieters easily gunned down Flores to kill that potential rally.

Was Jackson surprised to get the hit-and-run sign in that situation?

"Not really," the right-hander insisted. "The managers that I've played for, they've been pretty aggressive, especially Arizona's Kirk Gibson and St. Louis' Tony LaRussa. If a pitcher can halfway handle the bat, they'll put the hit-and-run on."

The poor execution continued in the seventh, when Bryce Harper led off with a single and Johnson decided to ask Danny Espinosa to bunt the rookie over to second base. Except Espinosa took one pitch for a strike, then twice bunted foul, sent back to the dugout after the final one.

"You try and you work on it every day as far as bunting, and sometimes it's not the easiest thing in the world to do," Espinosa said. "I know everyone thinks it is, but when you've got a guy throwing hard and the ball comes up and in, you want to bunt it. At the same time, you're trying to just protect yourself and move, and you foul it off."

By the time the bottom of the 11th rolled around, the Nationals were trailing and facing their last chance. They did give themselves a chance, though. Pinch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi was plunked by Orioles reliever Pedro Strop to begin the inning, only to be wiped out on Desmond's double-play grounder.

Now down to their final out, the Nationals still had one last-ditch shot when Roger Bernadina struck out on a pitch that wound up at the backstop and reached on the wild pitch. Zimmerman followed with a single up the middle, putting the tying runner in scoring position for cleanup hitter Adam LaRoche.

LaRoche has been the Nationals' most-productive, and most-consistent hitter, but he capped off perhaps his worst night of the season when he weakly tapped the ball back to the mound for the game's final out, completing an 0-for-5 night in which he never hit the ball out of the infield.

"We had chances," Johnson said. "And then our inability to get a bunt down, and bunting bad pitches ... a game like that's frustrating. We don't have to try to force on the execution of a bunt.

"That was a tough one. We pitched good. I thought the bullpen pitched good. One pitch, ballgame."

Quick Links

Bryce Harper drives in 3, Nationals snap skid, beat Cardinals 5-4

glover-harper-usat.png
USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Harper drives in 3, Nationals snap skid, beat Cardinals 5-4

ST. LOUIS -- Koda Glover rewarded his manager's faith.

Bryce Harper had three hits and drove in three runs, Glover earned the save in the first opportunity since Ryan Madson was placed on the disabled list, and the Washington Nationals snapped a four-game losing streak with a 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night.

The Nationals won for just the third time in their last 10 games and snapped the Cardinals' season-high, eight-game winning streak.

"We needed a win today," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "Get on that plane, have a nice happy flight and come back tomorrow and be at home and be ready."

Tanner Roark (8-12) gave up four runs, three earned, in six innings.

A beleaguered bullpen that had blown two leads to start the losing streak took care of the rest. Justin Miller pitched two scoreless innings before Glover closed it out.

"There's been a lot of changes (in the bullpen)," Miller said. "It's unfortunate, a couple of injuries and stuff like that, but I don't really look at it as I've got the seventh or eighth or anything like that. I'm just going out there just trying to do my job."

Glover took the loss in the series opener on Monday, giving up a game-ending homer to Paul DeJong.

"The first game of the series didn't go as I would have liked for it to have went," Glover said. "So to get put back in that situation or even a better situation to get a save, I'm happy with that outcome."

Harper drove in the game's first run with a double in the first and knocked in two more with a bases-loaded single in the fourth to give the Nationals a 4-1 lead.

A pair of errors helped the Nationals extend their lead to 5-1 in the fifth. St. Louis committed three errors in the game after committing just four total errors during the winning streak.

"A couple plays clearly we expect to make and will make and just didn't go our way for a little bit there," Cardinals interim manager Mike Shildt said. "To the guys' credit they regrouped, settled down, and started playing back to the baseball they know they can play."

The Nationals had opportunities to pad the lead, leaving the bases loaded in the third and fifth while stranding nine runners in the first five innings.

"When you have an opportunity to put teams away you've got to do that," Martinez said. "Especially with how hot the Cardinals are playing right now. They're going to come back."

The Cardinals got within one in the sixth. After DeJong and Kolten Wong came up with back-to-back, two-out RBI hits, Harrison Bader hit a slow grounder to third. Anthony Rendon's throw to first got away from Ryan Zimmerman for an error, allowing Wong to score from second to cut the Nationals' lead to 5-4.

Just two of the four runs Luke Weaver (6-11) allowed in his 3 2/3 innings were earned. He gave up seven hits, including two to Roark, who scored both times.

Tyson Ross allowed one unearned run in 3 1/3 innings of relief.

Bader homered in the third and Matt Carpenter walked twice to extend his on-base streak to a career-high 34 games.

TRAINING ROOM

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson will have an MRI on his sore right wrist on Friday. RHP Joe Ross (right elbow surgery) threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings at Class A Potomac on Thursday and is hoping for a September return.

Cardinals: RHP Carlos Martinez (right shoulder strain) will begin a rehab Friday at Double-A Springfield. RHP Adam Wainwright (right elbow inflammation) threw two scoreless innings Thursday night at High-A Palm Beach.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (15-5, 2.19 ERA) will take the mound as the Nationals return home for a three-game series Friday night against the Miami Marlins and RHP Dan Straily (4-5, 4.42 ERA). Scherzer is 3-0 with a 3.43 ERA in three starts this season against the Marlins.

Cardinals: RHP Jack Flaherty (6-6, 3.22 ERA) kicks off a three-game series Friday night as the Cardinals host the Milwaukee Brewers and RHP Freddy Peralta (5-3, 4.47 ERA). Flaherty struck out a career-high 13 batters in his last start against the Brewers on June 22.

Quick Links

Is Juan Soto a lock for National League Rookie of the Year?

sotogood.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Is Juan Soto a lock for National League Rookie of the Year?

In April, it would have been unfathomable. In May, it would have been laughable. In June, it would have been improbable. In July, it started to look possible. In August, it might even have been likely. Now, it’s a complete toss-up.

Juan Soto is the worthiest National League Rookie of the Year. So is Ronald Acuña.

It’s one of the most exciting rookie races in recent memory, not simply for the otherworldly numbers each freshman sensation is putting up, but for just how good they are at such young ages. Juan Soto is a jaw-dropping 19. Acuña, by comparison, is the wizened veteran at the old age of... 20. 

The two are preternaturally talented, and their mature-beyond-their-years games have translated perfectly well to the big leagues. The question now is: which one will actually take home the hardware?

(Before we continue, I’ll note that Jack Flaherty, Brian Anderson, and Walker Buehler are all very talented young players who would at least be in the conversation in normal years).

The first step is to look at the numbers.

On the season Acuña is slashing .287/.347/.571, and his wRC+ is 144. He’s got 19 home runs and 8 stolen bases in just 68 games and his fWAR is 2.3. bWAR has him at 2.8

Soto’s slash line is currently .293/.420/.534, to go along with 15 home runs. His wRC+ is 153, and his fWAR is 2.7. His bWAR sits at 2.2.

Obviously, the numbers are terrific for both. Acuña has been up longer, but thanks to injury Soto has actually played 8 more games. Acuña has the edge in power, both in home runs and slugging percentage, plus he’s clearly the speedier player and better defender. If you’re looking for all-around game, he’s probably your man. Plus, for those who care about such things when voting on awards, the Braves are several games ahead of the Nats in the standings.

However, Soto’s performance has a couple things going for it. First of all, as impressive as it is that Acuña is taking the league by storm as a 20-year old, Soto is nearly a full year younger. It cannot be overemphasized how wild it is what Soto is doing as a teenager. He may very well be the greatest teenage batter in baseball history.

Secondly, Soto has been incredibly consistent. He’s basically been an All-Star level hitter since the day he was called up in May, whereas Acuña’s numbers, while very legitimate, are buoyed by his recent hot streak. He’s hit 8 home runs in 8 games, and of every hitter with at least 100 plate appearances since the All-Star Game, he has the highest wRC+ in that span. He’s had plenty of valleys to his peaks, though, and Soto has been a model of consistency. Of all hitters with at 200 at-bats this entire season, Soto ranks 7th over the entire season, That’s astounding.

Another point in Soto’s favor is just how historic his numbers are. Voters love a narrative, and as mentioned above, Soto is having literally the best offensive season a teenager has ever had. The highest wRC+ by a 19-year old in baseball history is Mel Ott with a 140 exactly 90 seasons ago. Soto is beating that by 13 so far.

The true separator, though, is Soto’s on-base percentage. His .420 mark is a comfortable 4th of all players with at least 300 plate appearances, behind elite batting eyes Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Joey Votto. And, once again, we’re talking about something historic.

Soto’s .420 on-base percentage, if it holds, will be the only OBP over .400 for a teenager with 200 plate appearances in Major League history. In fact, outside of Ott’s .397 in 1928, no other teenager has ever reached base at a .360 clip, let alone Soto’s astronomical .420.

Ultimately, I believe more in Acuña’s future, but I think Soto’s been the better player this season. Acuña is more well-rounded, but Soto’s elite batting eye has made him a top 10 hitter in baseball already. If Soto had been up on Opening Day and played at this level, he’d be on pace for a 5.5 WAR, which would top even Bryce Harper’s 2012 season.

As mentioned, though, voters love a narrative. If Acuña comes back from his injury and stays as hot as he’s been all August, it’ll be tough to ignore his performance during the Braves’ stretch run. This award is not over, but for now, Soto should be considered the favorite.

MORE NATS NEWS: