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Washington Nationals fail to capitalize on chances in 4-1 loss

On Thursday, we saw two excellent pitchers square off in Nats Park. Both were pretty sharp, but each had just a couple of moments where they left the door open for the opposing offense. The Cardinals pounced on their opportunities. The Nationals did not.

The Nats had their chances Thursday, but Denard Span's RBI single in the fifth was the only time the Nats came through in a big spot.
The Nats had their chances Thursday, but Denard Span's RBI single in the fifth was the only time the Nats came through in a big spot.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

With Max Scherzer facing Michael Wacha on Thursday, it's no surprise that scoring chances were at a premium.  Both Scherzer and Wacha went seven strong innings, each allowing just seven baserunners.  When the starters left the game, Scherzer had left St. Louis with just two good scoring opportunities... each of which they capitalized on.  Wacha had given the Nats four good chances, and they scratched across one measly run.

Scherzer didn't make too many mistakes, so we're not really going to harp on his performance much....

In the first inning, he got ambushed by Matt Carpenter on a first pitch fastball for a double to begin the game before allowing one of those patented Cardinals bloop singles by Jason Heyward.  He looked awfully preoccupied with Heyward on first base, but looked like he might sneak out of the inning unscathed for a minute.  Scherzer struck Matt Holliday out looking and got ahead of Matt Adams 0-2 before a changeup got away from him and skipped past Jose Lobaton to allow Carpenter to score.

Right after the Nats had battled back to tie the game, Scherzer got into a little trouble in the sixth.  He retired the first two hitters, but then allowed a sharp grounder up the middle from Jason Heyward for a base hit.  Again, he looked a bit preoccupied with Heyward, making multiple throws over to first.  He'd end up losing control of a fastball on the inner half and hitting Holliday on the elbow, moving Heyward up to second base.  Matt Adams followed with a good piece of hitting, driving a fastball into shallow left field for what proved to be the game-winning single.

When Scherzer was still in the game, those were the Cardinals only real scoring chances.  They had the two hits in the first, two more in the sixth, a lousy one out single in the third, and a lousy two out single in the seventh.  Scherzer set down nine straight between Matt Carpenter's third inning single and Heyward's single sparked the two out rally in the sixth.  They had two chances... They made both of them count.

The Nats had a few more chances.  Wacha started the bottom of the first with a four pitch walk to Denard Span.  Ian Desmond followed that with this......

That's a three pitch strikeout.  I know Desi strikes out a lot, and I try not to get too upset about it because he has his good traits.  This one just annoys me, though.  It's early in the game and Wacha just walked the leadoff man on four pitches.  He's yet to throw a strike.  Desi couldn't check his swing on the first pitch at his shoulders.  He then fouled a pitch at the numbers off.  Finally, he watched strike three... the first pitch that Wacha threw in the strike zone all day.

Still, the Nats gave themselves a chance in the inning.  Harper followed Desmond's facepalm strikeout with a single back up the middle.  Ryan Zimmerman flied out to right.  Clint Robinson hit one on the screws, but (of course) it hung up for Jon Jay.

The Nats next good chance came in the fourth, when Zimmerman singled into right and officially started scaring the bejeezus out of all of us as he hobbled around the basepaths.  Clint Robinson walked, giving the Nats two on and nobody out..... Yunel Escobar hit a tailor made double play on the first pitch to Jhonny Peralta, who took it to the bag himself and stared the 6-3 double play.  Jose Lobaton followed with his second (of four) strikeouts to end the threat.

In the fifth, the Nats had a glorious chance... and they (kind of) capitalized on it.  Danny Espinosa ripped a double off of the little sliver of wall right next to the fair pole for a leadoff double.  Max Scherzer grounded out to shortstop, but Espinosa made a terrific heads up play and took off for third after Peralta threw it.  Matt Adams came off the bag too soon and everybody was safe!  Denard Span singled to right field to tie the game and Scherzer went first to third to keep the Nats with a runners on the corners and nobody out situation.  Then came the fail........

  • Desmond hit a weak popup to second base on a 1-0 pitch at the bottom of the zone.
  • Bryce Harper struck out swinging at a fastball almost a foot off the plate away.
  • Ryan Zimmerman stung a grounder right at Peralta.

The Nats turned their second runners at the corners with nobody out situation of the inning into zero runs.  Scoring a second run here didn't even require a hit.  It just required decent contact from their number two or number three hitter with less than two outs and a runner on third.  Sigh.

The Nats final real chance came against the Cardinals bullpen.  Desmond led off the eighth with a double and Harper walked behind him, but Ryan Zimmerman did exactly what Escobar did in the fourth.  He hit the first pitch right at Jhonny Peralta, who began a 6-4-3.  Clint Robinson flied out to center to end the threat.

That was pretty much the ballgame in a nutshell.  There were two really good pitchers on the mound.  They both made a few mistakes.  The Cardinals made Scherzer pay for his mistakes.  The Nationals did not make Wacha pay for his.

The bullpen

I was fine with how the bullpen was managed today.  I know that there were some people who were upset that Scherzer was removed at 82 pitches, but his spot came up in the order in the bottom of the seventh with one out and the Nats trailing 2-1.  I know that I fall on the different side of the DH debate from most of you here at Federal Baseball, but...... If you want the pitcher's spot to have to bat in the lineup, don't get upset when a starter with a manageable pitch count is removed with the team trailing by a run and only eight outs remaining.  There were reports after the game that Scherzer jammed his hand, which apparently also factored into the decision.

I liked Thornton as the choice to replace Scherzer with Carpenter, Heyward, and Holliday due up in the eighth.  I'm good with the decision to have him face Holliday and pitch him carefully as well, given that Matt Adams was the on-deck hitter.  Holliday is just a good hitter regardless of platoon splits.  He actually has a better career average (.310) and slugging percentage (.527) against right-handed pitchers.  Thornton is relatively platoon neutral.  As long as Thornton limits the damage against Holliday, keeping him in the game for Adams is important.  Alas, the Cardinals pinch hit for Adams with Mark Reynolds.  Then Williams went to Barrett and some clowns showed up.

At the end of the day, the Nats never scratched that second run across anyway.... They had their chances in this one.  They just didn't make them count.