We were all fortunate enough last night to watch the Washington Nationals earn their first-ever playoff victory. They did so against the St. Louis Cardinals, 3-2, en route to taking an early 1-0 lead in the National League Divisional Series. The club will now play one more game in St. Louis (Monday), before heading back to Washington where they will attempt to finish off the best-of-five series.
While it was an exciting game, it certainly wasn’t a pretty one. Gio Gonzalez wore his nerves on his sleeve nearly the entire start as he allowed a season-high seven walks in his five-inning performance. His complete lack of control allowed the Cardinals to score two runs in the bottom of the second, despite recording no hits. Gio finished the game giving up two earned, while allowing just one hit overall, and striking out five.
The Nats lineup struggled mightily against Adam Wainwright’s off-the table 12-6 curveball. In 5.2 innings of work Wainwright allowed just one run, six hits, and struck out 10 Nats batters.
Washington made their move in the top of the eighth when an error, a single to center, and a sacrifice bunt gave the squad runners on second and third with just one out. After a costly strikeout by Kurt Suzuki, Tyler Moore pinch-hit and with two strikes delivered a clutch hit to right to take the late lead in the game, 3-2.
- Gio Gonzalez looked visibly uncomfortable on the mound today. From the very first pitch you could tell he didn’t have the control that allowed him to make the leap from a very good starter in 2011, to an elite one in 2012. Based on his body language, and the way it seemed he needed his infielders to calm him down multiple times, especially in the second inning, Gio came across as nervous, plain and simple. We all know that the left-hander has pitched with his emotions on his sleeve this season, which is part of what has made him so effective and powerful. Tonight, however, his nerves clearly got in the way of his control. Between seven walks and a wild pitch, the Nats were unbelievably lucky to have allowed just two runs, and one hit.
That being said, I think this was a good stepping stone for Gio. With that first start, and that first win out of the way, I expect the lefty to come out very strong in his second start of the postseason.
- Ryan Mattheus has gotten the job done all year. That didn’t stop Sunday night. The righty-reliever came on for Craig Stammen with the bases loaded, and no outs. He escaped the the inning by forcing two quick outs, and while allowing none to score. The most impressive part of this outing though has to go to his defense. Ian Desmond handled a hard ground ball, while playing at double play depth, and got the force out at home. The next out came on a difficult 5-4-3 double play. Had Mattheus allowed just one run that inning, the Nats might still be playing.
- With runners on first and third and no outs, the Nationals called for Danny Espinosa to sacrifice bunt Ian Desmond to second base. The play-call was questioned at the time by the Nats faithful on Twitter, but has since been written off as master strategy by the team because they came out with the run, and the win. I’m not buying it though, and it still bugs me.
You’re doing a whole lot by sacrificing in that situation. First, you are admitting that your power hitting second baseman can NOT get it done when the game is on the line. While Espinosa had struck out three times in the game, he was the third highest ranked second baseman in the National League according to WAR, meaning someone needs to/should have confidence in his bat. You’ll never break out of a funk by giving up. Further more, in that situation, the runner on third is all that matters, you need to tie the game before you can take the lead. A sacrifice bunt trades an all important out from one of you more powerful hitters so the eighth and ninth batters can take a crack at hitting the run in? Espinosa, no matter how bad he’s struggled, likely had the ability to hit a fly ball or a hard hit grounder.
- The Nationals made two errors, and walked seven batters, but let’s talk about the fact that they allowed just three hits total on the night. While Gonzalez couldn’t find the zone for a good portion of the night, when he did, it was unhittible. Craig Stammen struggled overall, but Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Clippard, and Drew Storen came in to SLAM the door shut against a veteran St. Louis Cardinals team.
- The Nationals are now undefeated in postseason play. How great is that to read?