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Replay system fails the Washington Nationals in 2-1 loss

When the replay officials upheld Danny Espinosa's caught stealing despite a replay angle that showed he was obviously safe, they didn't just cost the Washington Nationals a runner in scoring position. They also cost the Nats the opportunity to challenge two other questionable calls (well... one obvious blown call) later in the game.

The Nats had plenty of opportunities to overcome the replay officials, but Clint Robinson got picked off at first base with Anthony Rendon at the plate to end the game.... Or did he?
The Nats had plenty of opportunities to overcome the replay officials, but Clint Robinson got picked off at first base with Anthony Rendon at the plate to end the game.... Or did he?
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The instant replay review system did not cost the Washington Nationals the game in Thursday's 2-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs.  It certainly didn't help them, but they had a couple of great opportunities late in the game to negate the botched calls.

Trailing 2-1 in the seventh inning, the Nats first two hitters reached base.  Jose Lobaton worked a walk and Michael Taylor popped up a bunt that dropped in front of Anthony Rizzo for a single.  They never advanced any further, though.  Dan Uggla and Denard Span popped out.  Anthony Rendon struck out swinging to end the threat.

Of course, the image that Nats fans may take away from this game was Clint Robinson getting picked off at first base to end the game.  Considering that the team has struggled a bit lately, this situation had all the makings of a potential signature moment in the Nats season.  Anthony Rendon was playing his first game of the year after a lengthy stint on the disabled list.  Rendon was the Nats best position player a year ago, batting .287/.351/.473.  He finished fifth in the MVP voting in 2014, and his return was expected to spark an offense that has been struggling for the past week and a half.

In his first game back, Rendon stepped to the plate with two on and two outs in the ninth inning.  He patiently worked the count to 3-1, perhaps earning himself a fastball that he could turn around and send the fans home happy..... whoops!

That's lumbering backup first baseman/pinch hitter Clint Robinson, the trail runner, straying too far off of first base and getting picked off with one of the Nats best hitters at the plate in a situation where he could have tied or won the game.  As he represented the winning run, it was important for him to get a decent secondary lead on the play, but straying far enough so that you can get picked off (again) as the trail runner just shows absolutely zero baserunning (or baseball) instincts.

Robinson's play was such a boneheaded mistake that it evoked memories of one of Charlie Slowes' greatest calls.  While Nook Logan is the first player that many Nats fans thought of, ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers gave us another informative kick to the groin on twitter....

Yep... A couple of years after the Nook Logan game, Nyjer Morgan got himself picked off by a catcher to end a game by the Chief of the Fun Police, Brian McCann.  Apparently no other player in the league had suffered such a fate since until Robinson did it on Thursday.  In the case(s) of Logan and T. Plush, at least they were fast players who were capable of making things happen on the basepaths.

Anyway, the Nats had chances to overcome the umpire/replay mistake(s) in Thursday's game.  They didn't take advantage of them.  Neither team was particularly effective at cashing in runners Thursday night.  The Nats went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position.  The Cubs went 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.  That one hit was an Anthony Rizzo single in the first inning... It loaded the bases.  The Cubs ended up scoring their two runs on a bases loaded walk (to a batter with a career walk rate below 5%) and a double play.  The Nats should have had a hit with runners in scoring position, but we'll get to that in a bit.......

If you're going to have instant replay, at least get the calls right

We're going to start this segment with a game that the Nationals were not involved in.  Why?  Instant replay has already been in the news nationally in the past week.  MLB apologized to the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday after they admitted that a glitch in the replay system led to them getting a crucial call wrong.  Jose Ramirez was ruled safe, extending an inning in which Cleveland would later score the winning run in.  Here's MLB's statement:

This is one of those rare circumstances in which the super slow motion view was delayed and the replay official reached a decision without the benefit of that information.

Here's the play:

The play from Tuesday night was ridiculously close.  Even watching the super slow motion replay from the Royals feed above, you can barely see the ball hit the webbing of Eric Hosmer's glove while Ramirez's foot is still coming down on the bag at first base.  He was out, but New York didn't get the super slow motion view in time and didn't find evidence that was conclusive enough to overturn the call.

Fast forward to Thursday night.... two whole days later.  The Nationals Danny Espinosa attempted a stolen base with two outs in the fourth inning....

The Cubs broadcast does take an objective stance towards the call, unlike the broadcast team for that other team from Chicago is known to do.

  • "They may have a.... uh... a grievance here."
  • "Not quite sure when Russell actually applied the tag. The throw did beat him."
  • "That particular look looked... safeish."

They go on to mention the Royals-Indians game from Tuesday night and also discuss how their replays aren't the only ones that the replay system in New York will be looking at.  They mention the home team broadcast, which I would love to find.  I'm a bit disappointed that MLB.TV used the Cubs' feed for the replay because MASN did have a pretty definitive view of Russell's glove finally tagging Espinosa on the left knee.  It was when Espinosa was popping up with his left foot on the bag.  I'll confess that I'm not all that (hmm) technically proficient, so I'd encourage anyone who can find or create a gif (or even a still shot) using MASN's broadcast of the play last night to do so and leave it in the comments.

Miraculously, I don't fault Joe West for the call on the field.  The throw did clearly beat Espinosa, and West didn't exactly have a great angle on the play.  His view of Russell's tag was obscured by the baserunner, so he probably made a judgment call and hypothesized that Russell had gotten the tag down on Espinosa.  With a definitive replay angle available that showed the tag didn't get Espinosa until after he was already popping up (on the bag) from his slide, Williams was absolutely right to use his challenge in that situation.  The replay officials just failed.

Of course, the problem with the replay system blowing that call is that the Nationals no longer have the option to challenge a play for the remainder of the game.... Say, a play like this one in the seventh inning.  Sorry... It won't allow me to embed that video.  Feel free to skip to 0:52 of the video if you'd like to see Bryce Harper's foot hit the bag well before the ball reaches Anthony Rizzo's glove.  This ended up being an RBI groundout for the second out in the sixth inning that cut the lead to 2-1.  Ryan Zimmerman was hit on the elbow with the very next pitch.... which would have forced in the tying run if Harper had (correctly) been ruled safe.

Heck... Let's even show you that first video we used again.......

Was this an awful baserunning mistake by Clint Robinson?  Absolutely!  Still, skip forward to 0:26 seconds into the video and watch that replay a couple of times.  Robinson was kind of sneaky getting back to first base.  His right hand stopped on the dirt short of Rizzo's glove.  His left hand got in around the tag.  Rizzo never got him on the right arm.  He didn't get him on the left arm.  By the time he tried to swipe a tag on Robinson and tagged him on the face, Robinson's left hand was on the bag at first base.  Once again, the Nats didn't have an opportunity to challenge this call because Espinosa was ruled out by the replay officials in the fourth inning.

The irritating thing is that I like instant replay.  I know that (just like the DH) some baseball purists wish that MLB would just scrap instant replay and let things go back to the way they were.  I don't feel that way at all.  The technology exists to get the calls right.... Get the calls right then!  Change isn't always a bad thing.  Change simply for the sake of change often is a bad thing.  However, if MLB uses everything at their disposal to ensure that the game is being officiated correctly, that's not change.  It's progress!

Unfortunately, the current replay system failed the Nationals last night.  It robbed them of a runner in scoring position in the fourth inning.  That call in the fourth robbed them of the opportunity to challenge one obvious blown call in the sixth inning and another borderline call in the ninth inning.  They had their chances to win the game despite the missed calls, but it's still frustrating.  The technology is there to get it done right.... Let's start using it properly please.