The Washington Nationals path to advancing in the playoffs just got that much more difficult.
Game 1 was there for the taking. Despite a rough start from ace Max Scherzer, the Nats had ample opportunity to put up big numbers against the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw.
Instead, the Nats went 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position — most of those against the struggling Kershaw himself — leading to a 4-3 loss, putting the home team down 1-0 in the series.
Time and time again, the bottom of the order — specifically Danny Espinosa — let the offense down. Three times Espinosa batted with two on, and three times Espinosa struck out swinging, once on a fastball that was literally above his head, and twice to end innings.
This is a by-product of Wilson Ramos missing from the batting order. Let’s take nothing away from Pedro Severino, who went 1 of 3 with a run scored. But with Ramos out, Ryan Zimmerman and Espinosa get moved up a spot in the batting order.
Zimmerman responded, with a 2 for 4 night and some very hard-hit balls. Espinosa, hitting in the seventh hole, obviously did not, going 0 for 3 with three strikeouts and a whopping six left on base before he was lifted for pinch-hitter Stephen Drew in the eighth inning.
Drew popped out. Clint Robinson doubled with two down, but was stranded when Chris Heisey K’d looking. Yup, it was that kind of night.
Missed opportunities was the theme of the night.
The Nats had two on with one out and bases loaded with two outs in the second against Kershaw and did not score.
The Nats scored twice in the third and had two more on with two down and Espinosa killed the rally with a K.
They had two on with one out in the fifth to no avail.
Then in the seventh against the Dodgers’ pen, Daniel Murphy — in his first start in three weeks — drew a one-out walk, then inexplicably tried to steal second. Manager Dusty Baker said “It wasn’t a missed sign. Our guys have the green light if they think a guy is slow to the plate, which (Pedro) Baez is.”
But not as slow as Murphy, who was easily thrown out.
Murphy told reporters, “"There’s only two choices on that: either be safe or don’t run. It was a bad play."
That took the Nats out of another inning and set them up against Kenley Jansen. Robinson managed that flared pinch-hit double with two outs in the eighth, but Jansen got pinch-hitter Chris Heisey looking and the Nats went down easy in the ninth.
This sets the Nats up with a difficult task. Tanner Roark’s Game 2 start on Saturday against Rich Hill becomes a must-win, and then Gio Gonzalez must match up with Kenta Maeda in Los Angeles on Monday.
Much has been written about the Dodgers’ struggles against lefties, and this will be, simply, Gonzalez’s biggest start as a member of the Nats.