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Early missed opportunity haunts Nationals late

Jun 27, 2014, 8:35 PM EST


CHICAGO — It was still very early in a long ballgame, and there was plenty of time left for plenty more to develop at Wrigley Field. But when Ryan Zimmerman was thrown out at the plate in the top of the second inning Friday afternoon, and certainly when Danny Espinosa struck out with two men in scoring position moments later, there was at minimum an unsettling sense that the Nationals had just squandered an opportunity that might come back to haunt them later.

Whether a reversal of fortunes in the second inning would have altered the outcome of what wound up a 7-2 loss to the Cubs is debatable. But it was emblematic of some recent struggles by a Nationals lineup that hasn’t been able to make the most of what opportunities they’ve been given.

“It’s one of those things where when you look back, you could do two or three different things,” Zimmerman said of his failed decision to try to score from third on a grounder hit just to his left. “But in the moment, you’re just kind of reading the ball down and going just to stay out of the double play. I probably could’ve made a better read, but it’s early in the game. I wouldn’t say it was the best read I’ve ever had, but those things happen.”

They may happen, but right now they’re costing the Nationals, who have combined poor baserunning decisions with poor at-bats in big situations and ineffective pitching to lose three straight games to Milwaukee and Chicago.

The story Friday might have been different had Tanner Roark been able to keep the Cubs from grinding out several at-bats in key spots, leading to a pair of 2-run innings and an elevated pitch count. And it might well have been different had Jerry Blevins not taken the ball for the bottom of the seventh with the Nationals still in the game, down 4-2, only to pour gasoline on the fire and turn that deficit into a 7-2 score.

But the Nationals lineup did itself no favors with its squandered opportunity early on against Cubs right-hander Jason Hammel.

Adam LaRoche’s leadoff single and Zimmerman’s subsequent RBI double into the left-field corner gave the Nats a quick 1-0 lead. And when Wilson Ramos drew a walk, Hammel was in a real jam, with runners on the corners and nobody out.

But then Ian Desmond hit a chopper to third, and Zimmerman had to make his split-second decision: Try to score, or try to get back to third base?

“A groundball, you want to stay out of the double play,” he said. “The ball wasn’t hit very hard. I probably could have stayed at third, and he would’ve had a tough play to either go to second or obviously throw out Desi at first. But it’s just one of those things where you’re reading [the ball] down and going to stay out of a double play.”

Chicago third baseman Luis Valbuena made the easy throw to the plate to nail Zimmerman by a comfortable margin, leaving runners on first and second with one out.

“That’s a read for him,” manager Matt Williams said. “If the ball is chopped there, he’s got the ability to read it. He second-guessed himself after the fact. If the ball’s hit to the third baseman’s left, we’ve got a chance there. But the thing that he can do there is try to get into a rundown and get the runners to second and third. He second-guessed himself after that one.”

It’s been something of a disturbing theme for the Nationals lately. They now have run themselves into four outs on the bases in the first two games of this series, two of them at the plate.

“It’s the way we’re going to play,” Williams said. “We’re going to play aggressively. That’s our DNA. We’re not going to change.”

Whether they do it via aggressive baserunning or not, the Nationals will find themselves in something of a desperate situation Saturday. Facing a day-night doubleheader — the annual Chicago Pride Parade in the Wrigleyville neighborhood forced Sunday’s game to be moved up a day — they’ll need to sweep both games simply to salvage a 4-game split against a Cubs team that owns the NL’s second-worst record.

“It’s tough,” Zimmerman said. “Obviously, doubleheaders are not something that we have often, but we’ve just got to come out [ready]. We’ve put ourselves in a position where we need to win both games. That’s what we’re going to try to do. And then we’ll go and enjoy our off-day Sunday.”

  1. tcostant - Jun 27, 2014 at 9:19 PM

    Get both games of the DH and get a split. The braves are close to first place.

  2. David Proctor - Jun 27, 2014 at 9:56 PM

    We lost, that sucks, but I’m more concerned long-term about Blevins. His ERA is well over 5 now. We can’t keep trotting him out there if he’s going to walk the lefties he faces.

    • karlkolchak - Jun 27, 2014 at 10:19 PM

      Meanwhile, Abad has a 2.32 ERA and 0913 WHIP for the A’s. So why did we get rid of him again only to make a trade with the same team to get Blevins?

      • dcwx61 - Jun 27, 2014 at 11:00 PM

        Never trade with Billy Beane…the best you’ll come out even

      • dcwx61 - Jun 27, 2014 at 11:29 PM

        the worst you’ll get HROD and Corey Brown

    • npb99 - Jun 27, 2014 at 10:23 PM

      In past years, Rizzo was able to find some lefty relievers mid-season. He needs to do that pronto.

  3. ArVAFan - Jun 27, 2014 at 9:58 PM

    First hand from the game. In addition to the other baserunning decisions, Span got thrown out at second trying to steal. That didn’t help either. There were a few good fielding plays, including a successful challenge of a safe call at first, but that’s about all that was memorable.

    I do think the second inning changed the outcome: with more than a one-run margin, pitchers pitch differently. Obviously, we’ll never know, but that’s my impression.

    Sorry Roark didn’t pitch better in front of his friends & family. Wonder if he was nervous?

    Hoping for better results tomorrow. Both games.

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 27, 2014 at 10:24 PM

      ArVa? Span didn’t get caught stealing 2nd base, Rendon did though.

      • ArVAFan - Jun 27, 2014 at 10:33 PM

        Joe: correct.

    • dcwx61 - Jun 27, 2014 at 11:02 PM

      focus on the big problems….like Espinosa striking out time and again with runners in scoring position and an ineffective LOOGY. Things that need to be fixed.

  4. Joe Seamhead - Jun 27, 2014 at 10:46 PM

    Bryce went 1-2 tonight with 2 RBI’s, 2BB’s, 2 SB’s and was caught stealing.

    • David Proctor - Jun 28, 2014 at 2:14 AM

      The caught stealing was interesting. He got caught on the backend of a double steal and stayed in the rundown long enough to let Michael Taylor score. So he did his job.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:07 AM

        Thanks for the game Bryce-lights. Good stuff.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:19 AM

        Thanks on the lowdown on the rundown, DP.

    • Section 222 - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:40 AM

      Did he slide headfirst on his steals? :-)

  5. therealjohnc - Jun 27, 2014 at 11:28 PM

    Danny Espinosa’s splits are terrible, it’s true: .222/.289/.356, a .645 OPS. 38.8% K rate Blech.

    But those stats are great, compared with Danny’s mind-bogglingly terrible numbers with RISP:

    .088/.254/.105, a .359 OPS. 32.4% K rate. And no, that .088 batting average and a .105 “slugging” percentage are not typos – that’s all there is.

    Hard to believe that Nats are going to put up with that when Harper comes back.

    • dcwx61 - Jun 27, 2014 at 11:32 PM

      Can’t afford to have two pitcher bats in the lineup. the change of him driving in a run is way too low compared to other batters with similar overall BAs(eg: Desmond who’s overall ba is similar but he is a much more productive AB with RISP).

      • sjm308 - Jun 28, 2014 at 12:33 AM

        Espinosa will hopefully be what most thought coming out of spring training. A defensive replacement at best and maybe someone who can give Desmond or Rendon that day off every two weeks or so. At least by playing so many games due to all of our injuries, he has shown both Rizzo and Williams what we have. I will give him props that he is still one of our best defensive players but that just is not going to cut it. I still cringe about Zimm at 3rd but the way Espinosa is hitting (or not hitting actually) he needs to find a place next to McClouth.

        Love to see two wins tomorrow but I am not getting my hopes up.

        Go Nats!!

    • BurnedOnce - Jun 28, 2014 at 12:39 AM

      Always wants to be the hero. But always ends up poetic hero of the Mudville nine. Then puts a peeved look on his face as he saunters back to the dugout like it was someone else’s fault. “Mistakes were made, but not by me”. Maybe he can run for congress when he retires.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:03 AM

      I had probably 1/2 dozen posts on Danny’s RISP issues going back to watching him drop to .061 when he was 2 for 33 and kind gave up as that is old news.

      Heck, .088 is a step up but it’s actually .086/.250/.353 and that pales in comparison to the NO HITS with RISP and 2 outs in 24 ABs. You figure BABIP will work in your favor but when you have a K rate of 41.7% it won’t help much.

    • natszee - Jun 28, 2014 at 11:01 AM

      This split is even more telling … BA with RISP with 2 outs = .000

  6. BurnedOnce - Jun 28, 2014 at 12:32 AM

    Sadly I think it is DNA, not simply a phase or a cycle or a missing player. Poor hitting and lack of cohesion as a team is in their DNA. And as the skipper says they are not going to change. They should have taken the Cubs by storm after the 16th inning win. Instead they s*at themselves and are likely to do it again if the cubs just play clean ball with average pitching. Too bad because the division is easy pickings for a team that put its mind to working as a team and exploiting its talent. Whatever part MW has in this he doesn’t seem to understand team dynamic but I think the deep pockets owner spouting off the poor mouth on opening day “we’re beyond stretched on our salary” or whatever just put pressure and doubt into the team. What stupid thing to say almost as dumb as the Mets saying they’d win 90 on opening day. “We’re done spending money” I’d be thinking what did I just commit to if this is the owners opening day remarks. It’s corrosive and now we get to enjoy the fruits of this mental basket case team. Not champion caliber, not a winning attitude team and no leadership to make it happen. Swing away boys maybe you’ll run in to one. Run til they tag you…which they surely will.

  7. Section 222 - Jun 28, 2014 at 12:36 AM

    In the last thread, several people, including some normally very knowledgable commenters blasted Henley for “sending” Ryan. It’s clear from this post that it was Ryan’s split second decision to go, his “bad read,” that led to the out at home. Henley had nothing to do with it.

    • BurnedOnce - Jun 28, 2014 at 12:41 AM

      Henley Thursday-Ryan Friday is my read.

      • Section 222 - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:37 AM

        Agreed. Thursday was definitely Henley’s fault. But 3B coaches don’t make decisions to “send” runners from third on ground balls. Happens too quickly, and the runners can’t wait for the decision.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 28, 2014 at 9:16 AM

      Agreed 222. That was a contact play and generally it’s the player who has to know whether to go. RZim’s call on that one, not Henley.

  8. David Proctor - Jun 28, 2014 at 2:19 AM

    Danny has a very respectable .281/.370/.424 slashline from the right side. His career numbers are just as drastic. Some will say he should give up switch hitting. It’s not that simple.

    I think he needs to be utilized as a platoon player. A team like the Rays or A’s would love to have him because they’d utilize his strengths. He’s not an everyday player, but he can be a very useful piece if used correctly. He should just almost never play against right handed pitching.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:25 AM

      He started off the season hitting well with the short swing from the left side but as many have said singles don’t make Danny a hero in his mind. He wants the longballs and his swing and his mind is a mess. The K rate with RISP is just pathetic.

      He’s an undisciplined mess. His right-handed hitting is better but what we don’t know is how Danny will play in a real platoon. I guess it can’t be worse.

      • sjm308 - Jun 28, 2014 at 9:54 AM

        Dueces – I am not vain enough to stick with something when it is obvious to me that there are better options for our club. Of course none of this is reality, just wishes and hopes, but you are correct that while I had no real thought that what I conceived would ever be put into play (rotating days off for all 7 field positions), it is funny to me that some of that might actually happen. What I would amend that to now is still giving guys more days off than before but using McClouth, Espinosa and even Frandsen in equal doses to get those days off it. One of my big issues is I really really like Rendon at 3rd and that just ain’t happening with Espinosa struggling the way he is.

        No pats on the back either, its just baseball and an old guy having fun with it.

    • sjm308 - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:57 AM

      DP – isn’t that what the plan was going to be for Danny before all the injuries?
      I realize we are all going to be holding our breath on every ball hit to 3rd but Danny will be doing that from the bench. I do agree about him sitting against right handed pitching as well but I will be happy now just seeing him give Desmond and Rendon that rare day off or coming in around the 7th inning if we are leading and letting Zimm watch the last 6 outs with Rendon at 3rd. My original plan had Danny playing much much more but he has really dug himself a hole. I guess there are teams that have automatic outs at #8 & 9 who have been successful, but when you don’t have to do something like that it makes sense to use him as a defensive replacement.

      Go Nats!

      • Section 222 - Jun 28, 2014 at 9:42 AM

        I just love the fact that your original plan, which seemed far fetched at the as even you admitted, now looks like what MW is planning to do. If it actually happens, you are entitled to some serious self-back patting. Heck, you’re entitled to it now just for having the plan in the conversation.

        The problem, as you’ve correctly identified, is that Espi really belongs on the bench as a defensive replacement. That could lead to Zim playing 3B and Desi getting less rest than your plan envisions. If that happens, NJ and I may be doing the self-back patting as Espi’s lack of ability to make contact was what made us think that Zim would end up at 3B most of the time.

        Thankfully we will soon see. Welcome back Bryce!

  9. Doc - Jun 28, 2014 at 7:05 AM

    Abad isn’t that bad; Blevins is!

    Cedeno might be the better loogy!

    Always take a security guard with you when you’re dealing with Billy Beane—he might have his hand in your pocket when you’re not looking!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Joe Seamhead - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:03 AM

    Those are Blevin’s ERAs and BAs against LHB’s & RHB’s respectfully for the season.

    This was a guy that wasn’t supposed to be just a LOOGY, but a LHP that could give you multiple innings. I sure hope what we’ve seen over his last 5 appearances is just a blip.

  11. Joe Seamhead - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:08 AM

    Another issue:
    Jayson Werth over the last 10 games: .146 BA and 1 RBI

    • micksback1 - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:28 AM

      the poor man is giving it his all and the problem is, our manager has no clue when a player needs rest

  12. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:13 AM

    The Dayton Flyers duo of Stammen and Blevins in consecutive games have imploded. Stammen’s led to a loss and last night Blevins just widened a deficit.

    You could see from the 1st few pitches how poor their location was.

    • micksback1 - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:27 AM

      and to add, what is frustrating is that the BP was rested on Thursday, and MW does not use it and instead keeps Stammen in to pitch to a guy who hits 600 verse him. MW is not a good manager, Blevins is probably hurt and Stammen is worn down and I put this on MW and the lame lame Nats conditioning coaches

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:32 AM

        Without knowing the reason behind that as I didn’t see a Beat writer ask him the question we don’t know why he went that way. I think part of it is keeping the arms fresh for Saturday as a Manager has to also look forward. Remember the toll that 16 inning game took on the ‘pen.

        Stammen has to do his job and did not. Ruggiano owns him because he’s made poor pitches to him. I think anyone hits that pitch hard.

  13. micksback1 - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:22 AM

    This all goes back to what I posted yesterday, i really feel MW has mismanaged this team and is wearing veteran players down over the course of the first half of th season. This is all on MW, he owns this club and he really needs to step back and maybe let another set of eyes (Randy Knorr?) to see that this team is worn down

    What is frustrating is that MW addressed this issue back in Spring training and he has ended up wearing Werth, Desi, etc.. down before the half way mark of the season. There is no excuse, McClouth and frandsen have been healthy and so has Harriston, hell even Zim has played some outfield. I really think MW simply can not manage at this level. the sooner Rizzo admits this, the better the Nats will be when hiring a big time manager. DC is an attractive place for a big time manager so Rizzo needs to move on it

    and yes, have given up on MW, he is a flop period

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:29 AM

      It’s a balancing act and Thursday against the lefty was the day to rest LaRoche and put RZim at 1st and Frandsen in LF as I wrote but all added up the players who have been over-used have been Desi and Werth. I think Desi will get rest once Harp comes back and as I predicted earlier yesterday Desi will probably sit a doubleheader game today which MW later confirmed would be the case.

    • dcwx61 - Jun 28, 2014 at 9:52 AM

      Agree about the rest thing. Don’t understand not sitting Werth and Desi. Baseball does not have to be this kind of marine corp grind when you have several million dollars on the bench.

  14. micksback1 - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:44 AM

    you have a good point, however, my point is simply that MW should not have been waiting until Harper returns for the simple reason that McClouth and Frandsen have been healthy. Frandsen plays OF and the infield at a high level so this is why I am angry at MW, let’s not forget Harriston as well.

  15. mrnat7 - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:44 AM

    I still say Espi could hit it management would make him choke up, on the bat and crouch a little and become a punch or contact hitter. The problem today is everyone wants to play Earl Weaver ball. No one wants to be a Pete Rose or Tony Gwynn hitter today.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 28, 2014 at 9:05 AM

      Altuve? Rendon? Freddie Freeman in RISP. I think the HR is glorified like Ks and Velo.

      You won’t change the mindset overall because this is how the kids see the game. I just admire players like Jamey Carroll and the names mentioned above. Take what the game gives you.

      • natszee - Jun 28, 2014 at 11:25 AM

        I agree especially the focus that some here have for the K’s … “We don’t focus on strike outs, we focus on outs.” So says Steve McCatty.–nationals-pitching-coach-steve-mccatty-fewer-ks-equals-more-ws.html

        No matter how many hours one spends pouring over saber metrics, at the end of the day it takes 27 outs (usually) to win a game and the team that wins the most games in their division (or comes in the wild card) gets to play post season. Metrics are indicators of trends, strengths and weaknesses helpful in predicting outcomes … That is ALL they are. In Danny’s case, if you watch the Nat’s, you already know that he strikes out a lot and is not a clutch hitter. The numbers confirm want your eyes already told you.

        In SS case the metrics are not very useful in projecting outcomes …. The real question is why. Too much focus on K’s maybe???????

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 28, 2014 at 12:12 PM

        Koufax had the best transition as a pitcher in going from swing and miss and painting to more finesse and it worked. He got the Ks and the Ws.

  16. micksback1 - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:46 AM

    My guess is that Gio pitches well and Nats win the first game today, the second game is a 50/50 proposition. Nats may lose this series, a tie would be OK, if they are swept, I dunno, it would put losing streak at five?

  17. Jsjeffress - Jun 28, 2014 at 8:50 AM

    Desmond would have been out at first but for the play at the plate, so the only difference was first and second instead of second and third, either way there’s one out. So not that big a deal. Roark just got racked around is the story.





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