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Instant analysis: Pirates 3, Nats 2

May 24, 2014, 10:15 PM EDT

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GAME IN A NUTSHELL: A rare showdown between fellow No. 1 overall draft picks played out as most would have hoped, with Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole trading blows for much of the night in a tense, low-scoring ballgame. Strasburg, the top pick in 2009, appeared to have the edge on Cole, the top pick in 2011, but then things quickly fell apart in the seventh.

The Nationals led 2-1 thanks to Ian Desmond’s solo homer in the fourth and Wilson Ramos’ RBI single in the fifth. Strasburg took the mound for the bottom of the seventh with a chance to hold the lead and then hand this one over to his bullpen. But the big right-hander surrendered a pair of runs in the inning — with a curious decision by manager Matt Williams playing a role — and wound up departing in line for the loss.

Needing a late rally against a depleted Pirates bullpen, the Nationals couldn’t produce the wining rally. Thus, they lost their fourth straight and fell to 24-25 for the season, the first time they’ve been under .500 since they were 63-64 on Aug. 22, 2013.

HITTING LOWLIGHT: Against a fireballer like Cole, the Nationals figured not to get many chances to drive in runs. So even though they took the lead the in the top of the fifth on Ramos’ RBI single, their inability to add on and deliver a potential knockout punch to Cole proved costly by night’s end. With the bases loaded and two out, Greg Dobbs stepped to the plate. The veteran first baseman singled in each of his first two at-bats, but he grounded out to first in the situation that really mattered. Yes, the Nationals still led 2-1 at that point, with Strasburg on the mound. But a 3-1 (or 4-1) lead right there would’ve looked a whole lot better.

PITCHING LOWLIGHT: For much of the night, Strasburg was in top form, as effective and as efficient as he’s ever been. But he started to fade in the seventh, and he paid the price for it. With two on and one out, he allowed a sac fly lineout to Jose Tabata. That tied the game 2-2. Then came a curious decision by Matt Williams, who had Strasburg intentionally walk the .214-hitting Travis Snider, bringing the recently hot Josh Harrison to the plate. Why not let Strasburg (or a lefty) face Snider? And if not, why not bring in a fresh right-hander to face Harrison, with Strasburg sitting on 108 pitches and fading? In the end, Harrison smoked a base hit up the middle off Strasburg, who despite pitching well most of the night wound up taking the loss.

KEY STAT: In 330 plate appearances over the last two seasons, Danny Espinosa has struck out 100 times while drawing only 10 walks.

UP NEXT: This four-game series wraps up at 1:35 p.m. Sunday when Doug Fister looks for his third consecutive strong outing for the Nationals against the win-less Francisco Liriano. Adam LaRoche is expected to come off the DL and start at first base for the Nats.

  1. Danny - May 24, 2014 at 10:17 PM

    Another one run loss. Welp what are ha gonna do.. No ground lost at least.

    • bgbg32b - May 25, 2014 at 1:16 AM

      Trade for Michael Morse…..

  2. David Proctor - May 24, 2014 at 10:18 PM

    We’ve been staying afloat, but now we’re starting to sink. Can LaRoche at least close the leak in the boat? I guess we’ll find out.

    I’m sure many will declare the season over. It’s not. But something’s gotta change, too. Strasburg pitched well, but if your ace is on the mound with a lead in the 7th inning, he has to shut the door. Maybe Matt should have gone to Storen, but I can’t fault him for leaving his ace on the mound. It’s up to Strasburg to show he’s worthy of that trust. He didn’t tonight.

    • tmac777 - May 24, 2014 at 10:24 PM

      I agree with what you are saying. The problem in that inning is walking a .214 pinch hitter. Baffling. If you don’t have confidence that your guy can handle a weak lefty, take him out.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 24, 2014 at 10:57 PM

        Thats thé point and it was a bad move and costly as the next batter won the game.

  3. Another_Sam - May 24, 2014 at 10:18 PM

    I give up..

  4. veejh - May 24, 2014 at 10:19 PM

    Stras had the helm and lost. Only he is to blame (and another dismal batting exhibition, of course).

    • David Proctor - May 24, 2014 at 10:22 PM

      I mean, like I said above, he has to win this game with the lead in the 7th. He deserves some blame. But he pitched a good game. 7 innings, 3 runs, you should win that game. Offense is what’s truly to blame. You’d just hope that with your ace on the mound, he could shut the door with the lead in the late innings. Not tonight.

      • veejh - May 24, 2014 at 10:23 PM

        I agree. Some were blaming MW, and I don’t think that’s right. Stras has to get those outs.

    • Zona - May 24, 2014 at 10:27 PM

      Stras was fine. No freaking run support again. This lineup can not carry McLouth and Espi anymore.

    • scnatsfan - May 24, 2014 at 10:32 PM

      He is supposed to be our horse. He isn’t. He has been pitching just good enough to lose.

  5. stoatva - May 24, 2014 at 10:21 PM

    In 330 plate appearances over the last two seasons, Danny Espinosa has struck out 100 times while drawing only 10 walks.

    That would embarrass Eddie Brinkman.

  6. tmac777 - May 24, 2014 at 10:22 PM

    That’s 2 games this week that we lost due to really dumb Matt Williams decisions (not bunting in the 14th on Monday). Mr. Zuckerman and the rest of the DC media, the honeymoon is over. Time to ratchet up the criticism of Williams; I don’t want to be stuck with this guy for more than one season if he is as clueless as he appears to be.

    • David Proctor - May 24, 2014 at 10:24 PM

      You have to trust your ace to get out of jams, not pull them every time there’s trouble. I don’t fault him for leaving Strasburg in, I fault Strasburg for not earning that trust. The real crime of the inning was throwing Marte a strike ahead in the count. Marte swings at everything, why throw him a strike? I have to assume he was trying to bury it but had poor execution.

      • tmac777 - May 24, 2014 at 10:27 PM

        I didn’t see the pitch, but totally agree. Marte swings at everything. Was he ahead in the count and threw a strike? If so, dumb.

      • David Proctor - May 24, 2014 at 10:27 PM

        It was a curveball he was probably trying to throw in the dirt, but it stayed up some.

      • stoatva - May 24, 2014 at 10:27 PM

        I really thought Marte went down and got that one. The SF to Tabata wasn’t good.

      • NatsLady - May 24, 2014 at 10:34 PM

        I don’t understand the distinction you are making. Anyway, in this case it’s not “trust” it’s a one run lead, with the best bullpen in the majors. Use it.

      • BombsOverNatsTown - May 24, 2014 at 10:36 PM

        It was an 0-2 pitch with Martin on first.

        And this one is on Matt Williams. Your squad has lost 4 of 5, the guy on the mound was at 108 pitches, you had Blevins and Storen up in the pen…and that was the decision he went with.

        And I think it’s time for a little reality check. What about Stephen Strasburg says “ace” to anyone? Honestly? Go to Baseball Reference and compare him with true aces at this state of their career. Or don’t, because there isn’t a comparison to be made.

        He’s a #2 pitcher, pretty good, not exceptional. It’s time to start thinking of him that way.

    • stoatva - May 24, 2014 at 10:26 PM

      One thing I can’t tolerate is Matt’s mush-mouthed nothingburger press conferences after the game. I don’t know why anyone even bothers to attend.

    • Rick - May 24, 2014 at 10:49 PM

      He is a rookie manager and it shows. That was my main concern which was to hand this team with a bright future over to a 1st timer. I believe that he has not consistently given this team its best chance to win.

  7. peewilly - May 24, 2014 at 10:29 PM

    Allowing 3 runs over 7 innings is hardly unworthy. McCatty probably left it up to Stras wether to pitch to the lefty or try to get Harrison. Watching Nats hitters go down so meakly in the 8th and 9th was tough. If we score 4 runs against Pittsburg we win 2 and send the other to extra innings. Offense has to get rolling.

  8. David Proctor - May 24, 2014 at 10:30 PM

    LaRoche activated, Walters to AAA

  9. tmac777 - May 24, 2014 at 10:31 PM

    Walters to AAA. Espinosa given another reprieve. There’s a 3B batting .300 at Syracuse. Makes no sense to have Espinosa playing virtually everyday.

    • veejh - May 24, 2014 at 10:34 PM

      Maybe something happens soon. Espi is a black hole. Literally, he sucks the life out of everything.

    • scnatsfan - May 24, 2014 at 10:34 PM

      I guess the powers that be believe the Espi of the first month of the season is who he is, not the Danny 23 of the last 24 months.

      • tmac777 - May 24, 2014 at 10:39 PM

        I wonder if it’s because they don’t want to piss Boras off. But the Mets eventually gave up on Ike Davis, and he is more productive than Espinosa. Eventually, you have to realize it’s not going to work in DC. Maybe he’ll go somewhere else and be a star (unlikely). But it ain’t happening here.

    • davecydell - May 24, 2014 at 10:40 PM

      It is a Whizzo call.
      I stand by my prediction: No flag in the Whizzo regime.

  10. NatsLady - May 24, 2014 at 10:33 PM

    Davey would have done the same, left Stras in to “get the win” and also to give his Ace a chance to work out of the jam as a “learning” experience.

    First of all, forget the pitcher win. Just forget it. Second of all, if Stras hasn’t “learned” by now how to get out of jams, he’s never learning. But I think he does know how to get out of jams. he got out of PLENTY the other day when there were runners on base in every one of his seven innings. It’s not a matter of toughness, I think Stras is tough, but he was tiring and why not use the BEST BULLPEN IN THE MAJORS???? Why not play matchups? Especially since you DON’T have the best offense in the majors, so you don’t want to fall behind in the game.

  11. David Proctor - May 24, 2014 at 10:35 PM

    Ian Desmond’s average isn’t where he wants it yet, but he’s on pace for 30 HR and 90 RBI. Yet some posters I won’t name single him out as the problem. Hell, right now, he’s pretty much the only hot hitter we have.

    • veejh - May 24, 2014 at 10:38 PM

      Span, Rendon, werth, and Ramos ice cold. Espi and McLouth should be on the bench behind Harper and Zim. It’s a perfect storm of crap right now.

      • tmac777 - May 24, 2014 at 10:40 PM

        Every time Rendon hits the ball well, someone makes a web gem.

      • NatsLady - May 24, 2014 at 10:49 PM

        Span is far from “ice cold.” Yes, he had an 0-fer today, but over the previous seven days he’s hit .316/.361/.491, with 4 RBI, stolen 2 bases and scored 8 runs.

      • NatsLady - May 24, 2014 at 10:53 PM

        Sorry, that was Span for the last 14 days…

  12. wmlsays - May 24, 2014 at 10:40 PM

    More often than not, Strasburg fails to come through. While not a bust, he’s not the horse you’d want to hitch your wagon to either. They’re under .500 now and sinking. Reality is, this isn’t a good team. Thanks McPhee, err, I mean Rizzo!

    • David Proctor - May 24, 2014 at 10:41 PM

      It’s borderline spam at this post. At least SWM makes up new BS to post. You keep posting the same exact thing night after night. We get it. You think Rizzo is McPhee. Come up with some new material.

      • wmlsays - May 24, 2014 at 11:07 PM

        It was the last sentence that got to you.

        In any case, the team, like other teams, is playing hurt at the moment. Unlike other teams, however, who seem to be treading water more successfully, the Nats seem to be in a funk. They aren’t very deep, or so it seems. It may be that they are all trying too hard and are victims of the same groupthink, hence the lack of success at the plate. Or perhaps, the talent is not as we were lead to believe.

        Last season was suppose to be the aberration – but this season isn’t much different from the last. Except the starting pitching, sans Fister, is worse. Perhaps a turnaround is going to happen, for the season is young. And yet the signs are there that the team just isn’t competitive with the good teams in the long run. They have lost almost every series against the better teams.

        It could very well be Williams learning to manage, or the pitching coach failing to get the message to the starters yet again. Who knows. There are more games to see if the components are there to make a run, or to confirm that 2012 was illusory.

        BTW, I haven’t posted for a while (too busy) – at least until yesterday. So I gather the McPhee reference must be grating on people.

        Maybe the Nats just aren’t lucky. Let’s attribute their lack of success to that then.

      • dcwx61 - May 24, 2014 at 11:08 PM

        +1

      • destcl - May 24, 2014 at 11:32 PM

        “Come up with some new material.” Why? Because you dislike that comment? That’s silly. What’s more, I have noted a tendency toward repetition on your part, Mr. Proctor. You post, night after night, defenses of the Nationals no matter what the circumstances. Perhaps you should take your own advice — or stop dishing it out to others.

      • scmargenau - May 25, 2014 at 4:00 AM

        +1!! On DP over homerism. It’s a sickness!

    • Joe Seamhead - May 24, 2014 at 10:53 PM

      Great game analysis, Mark Zuckerman.

      Two best post-game posts, IMHO :

      NatsLady – May 24, 2014 at 10:34 PM
      I don’t understand the distinction you are making. Anyway, in this case it’s not “trust” it’s a one run lead, with the best bullpen in the majors. Use it.
      —————–
      NatsLady – May 24, 2014 at 10:33 PM
      Davey would have done the same, left Stras in to “get the win” and also to give his Ace a chance to work out of the jam as a “learning” experience.

      First of all, forget the pitcher win. Just forget it. Second of all, if Stras hasn’t “learned” by now how to get out of jams, he’s never learning. But I think he does know how to get out of jams. he got out of PLENTY the other day when there were runners on base in every one of his seven innings. It’s not a matter of toughness, I think Stras is tough, but he was tiring and why not use the BEST BULLPEN IN THE MAJORS???? Why not play matchups? Especially since you DON’T have the best offense in the majors, so you don’t want to fall behind in the game.

      • NatsLady - May 24, 2014 at 11:32 PM

        Thanks, Joe. I tweeted the same before Stras lost the lead, because you could see Stras was losing it, or, at least, I could. Actually, there came a point late in the season where Davey WOULD have pulled Stras, he got a much quicker hook when the Nats started that winning phase.

        Wow, the unis in the Mariners/Stros game!!!! The M’s have an upside-down Neptune’s trident (I guess it’s an “M”) on their caps and chests, the Stros have those orange/yellow/red deals on. They all have the spandex waist bands. It’s something to see.

      • Section 222 - May 25, 2014 at 1:31 AM

        I’ll have more thoughts in the morning, but wanted to register a big +1 to JoeS and NatsLady on this question. I understand leaving Stras in to face Marte, maybe. But after his well hit double it was clear Stras was tiring and the Pirates were ready to pounce. Ace or no ace, horse or no horse, there is simply no excuse for leaving him in. And if he did it to give him a chance for a win, which is sure what it sounded like in the postgame pressed, shame on him.

  13. stoatva - May 24, 2014 at 10:43 PM

    Yeah, for several seasons now when people call Strasburg our “ace” it gives me a facial tic. Almost as much as when people wail and kvetch about the 2012 shutdown. “You don’t watch much Nats baseball, do you?”

    He’s a solid big league pitcher who 30 mlb teams would love to have, but at this point that’s as much as we’ve seen.

    See also: Harper, Bryce.

    • stoatva - May 24, 2014 at 10:45 PM

      That said, I don’t see how Stras could have pitched better than he did for six innings tonight.

    • scmargenau - May 25, 2014 at 4:04 AM

      Spot on. Espe
      Call true: Bryce. Boy whiner.

  14. Nats fool - May 24, 2014 at 10:43 PM

    A losing season would be a disaster for DC baseball. We’re not getting TV revenue and after the Stras shutdown we were left with the impression that good times were ahead. I’ve lived here my whole life and I know the only way to make this a baseball town is to win. We don’t have Wrigley.

    • wmlsays - May 24, 2014 at 11:32 PM

      How long will the Lerners put up with mediocrity? Unlike the blogger (that’s Ted to you and me), they don’t say a whole lot in public? What do you think is in their mind, after watching the promise of 2012 turn to nothing? The Braves have caught the Nats, the Marlins will probably be better next year. The Mets are up and coming. It seems to me, the Nats chances are dwindling, not improving.

  15. Rick - May 24, 2014 at 10:43 PM

    Let’s face it. Strasburg has yet to live up to the hype. Either has Harper for that matter. Of course it was super hype for both but they have yet to deliver as GREAT ballplayers. Injuries have been a major factor and in Strasburgs case his injury may keep him from being the pitcher he could have been.

    • destcl - May 24, 2014 at 11:34 PM

      I agree that he’s failed to live up to the hype — after his debut game, that is — but disagree that it’s injury related. Every time he starts to implode now, I hear Tony Kornheiser’s voice in my ear, saying, “Hothouse plant. Hothouse plant. Hothouse plant.” It really does fit. “Mentally tough” just does not describe Stephen Strasburg.

      • Rick - May 25, 2014 at 6:23 AM

        He has lost his 100+ mph fastball since his injury/surgery. Will he ever get it back? Plus some pitchers never gain back their full confidence after such trauma.

  16. rmoore446 - May 24, 2014 at 10:51 PM

    I agree with NatsLady. Get a tiring Stas out of there and turn to your top of the league bullpen. And the lineup tonight was pitiful. McLouth leads off the 9th and goes down 0-2 and then sits on a pitch that looked very much like a strike even to me and gets the gift of a ball from the ump. So the one thing you know is that he has to be swinging on anything close. Right? But no, he is called out looking on a nice 1-2 pitch. I’ve pulled for this guy but am losing faith.

  17. stoatva - May 24, 2014 at 11:13 PM

    Salvage one with Fister tomorrow, then take 4 or 5 of six this week at home against Fish and Rangers and I’ll feel a lot better.

    • dcwx61 - May 24, 2014 at 11:15 PM

      Not even the return of ALR can make that happen.

    • NatsLady - May 24, 2014 at 11:16 PM

      The Fish won’t be the pushovers they were in April, and the Rangers are unpredictable. Despite all their injuries, they blew out the Tigers 12-2 tonight.

  18. dcwx61 - May 24, 2014 at 11:14 PM

    I am thinking it is time to DFA Espinosa and cut losses. Maybe he’ll do well somewhere elseGive someone else a chance to come in for the inevitable injury….someone like Frandsen. Yes. we’ll miss his glove but we need a bat more

    • Joe Seamhead - May 24, 2014 at 11:17 PM

      We still have no other back up to Desi. Doesn’t he still have options? Send him down to Syracuse.

  19. Joe Seamhead - May 24, 2014 at 11:14 PM

    On a positive note, the Braves lost, so we lost no ground to them, though the Fish are now 1 1/2 up on us.

    • NatsLady - May 24, 2014 at 11:20 PM

      This is a weak division, at least right now it is. The Mets and Phillies are bottom feeders. The Barves (who, by the way, are 1-18 RISP in their last two games) exist on smoke, mirrors and Craig Kimbrel. The Marlins don’t have the depth to win it this year–though they might next year.

      • Rick - May 25, 2014 at 6:04 AM

        It seems that we are bottom feeders as well.

  20. hantiaolang - May 24, 2014 at 11:19 PM

    1 game under .500. Who cares what the Braves or Marlins do? We have to win games. The problem is . . . give up wondering how great it will be when RZimm, ALR or Harp will be back. The situation is not static. As those players return from the DL, new players will develop inflammations or tweaked hammys. It’s a long season and it takes the vets AND rookies to make it mean something.

    I’m not giving up, but these guys need to come thru when the moment arises. I appreciate the Nats every single night because we have baseball back in DC. I enjoy them but beyond frustrated. By the way – in 28 years following the game with a passion, I’ve never seen a total crapshoot when it comes to the starting rotation. You have no idea which pitcher will hold down the fort when a win matters above all else.

  21. wmlsays - May 24, 2014 at 11:19 PM

    The thing is, if the Nats continue to be middling (as they have been for every year except 2012), it is not inconceivable that the fanbase will start to abandon them. Hopefully, that won’t happen. But there is such a thing as overhyping and under producing. People want to believe, but all they see is mediocrity, not a champion.

    • Joe Seamhead - May 24, 2014 at 11:37 PM

      I, for one, have been with them since they were the Senators, and since the return to DC,and will continue to be for the duration. It is more fun when they’re winning though.

      • wmlsays - May 24, 2014 at 11:44 PM

        There will always be people devoted to the team and the game. To the casual observer, who buys in to the hype and gets nothing in return, the Nats glory days may be numbered. Unless they turn this season around. They’re not the class of the East, and it appear that next year, they’ll be looking up at both the Braves and Marlins (oh, they’re looking up at them now).

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - May 25, 2014 at 12:20 AM

      Please clarify what you mean by “abandon.” There’s still a sizable group that see this as an open-air bar with live entertainment and a cover charge.

      • wmlsays - May 25, 2014 at 5:13 AM

        There is that aspect of it. On the other hand, there’s is something to be said about a team that you know will probably win most days.

  22. habs3 - May 24, 2014 at 11:20 PM

    Watching us bat in the 9th was pure torture. Words cannot express the look in McLouth’s face during and after his at bat. The guy was simply clueless. Please manufacture an injury and get him out of there.

    I do not know what to say about Espinosa.

  23. Ghost of Steve M. - May 25, 2014 at 12:20 AM

    I just wonder how many people were looking for a reliever to come in when Snyder was announced as the pinch-hitter.

    Matt Williams each game seems to make 1 or 2 moves that backfire. 2-2 game with a stacked bullpen and he doesn’t go to a stopper. That’s on Matt. Sometimes you have to save a player from himself. Stras was nearly out of gas. Sorry, I thought Stras pitched great.

    • NatsLady - May 25, 2014 at 1:10 AM

      I thought Stras pitched very well (I reserve “great” for shut outs….), and he did well the previous time in stressful situations. I think it’s time to put the “hothouse flower” thing to rest.

      But he is human, he does get tired, and what else is the bullpen for? When was the last time Soriano pitched? Other than Detwiler, there isn’t a guy in the bullpen you can’t trust–which is such a fun thing to write–and you have Mattheus in reserve in case someone tweaks something or there is a double header or another 15-inning game.

      FP called Storen the “best pitcher in the bullpen” and Clip hasn’t given up a run in a solid MONTH (4/24 – to date).

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 25, 2014 at 9:30 AM

        You’ve lost 3 in a row before yesterday. You have a lead. You have a great bullpen.

        I’m getting tired of MW ‘s excuses. Hes lucky he doesn’t manage the NY Yankees as the media and fanbase would be relentless after last night’s decisions.

  24. Sec 3 My Sofa - May 25, 2014 at 12:25 AM

    I wanted Blevins after the first batter in the seventh reached. But maybe that’s just me.

    • NatsLady - May 25, 2014 at 1:12 AM

      No, it wasn’t just you. I tweeted Storen or Blevins at the same point. The old policy of “you can go out there and start another inning, but anyone gets on, you’re out,” is what Matty needed to enforce.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 25, 2014 at 9:32 AM

        If you’re in a 3 game winning streak I think then you wouldnt have to be as conservative but I agree with you here as you can’t lose that game.

  25. bgbg32b - May 25, 2014 at 1:18 AM

    This team needs to win now, not wait until someone comes back. I thought we were told before the season that we had better depth this year.
    Trade McLouth and someone else for Michael Morse…..

  26. manassasnatsfan - May 25, 2014 at 9:37 AM

    I was at the game. The fellow next to me is a college student at Pitt, and big time Bucks fan.

    He was so excited to see MW intentionally walk Snyder. He says that Snyder is as bad as Espinosa and intentionally or even unintentionally walker him is insane. Harrison could easily win NL player of the week and choosing to pitch to him over someone witk 2 hits in 2 weeks is the work of someone who hasn’t done his home work.

    For the record I booed Ramos as soon as he called for ball 3 then 4.

    The third run really was set up pathetic strategy followed by poor execution.

    MW has to become strategically sound and the pitchers have to execute as we have no wiggle room to too many hitters not doing the job.

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
WASHINGTON 55 44 --
ATLANTA 55 46 1.0
NEW YORK 48 53 8.0
MIAMI 47 52 8.5
PHILADELPHIA 43 57 12.5
Through Wednesday's games

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
THU: OFF
FRI: Nats at Reds, 7:10 p.m.
SAT: Nats at Reds, 4:05 p.m.
SUN: Nats at Reds, 1:10 p.m.
MON: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
TUE: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
WED: Nats at Marlins, 12:40 p.m.
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